Research shows that early intervention in mental health conditions is critical for achieving better outcomes. Left unaddressed, conditions tend to progress. The depression will worsen. The anxiety will escalate. The disorder can intensify to the point where a child or teen can’t function, won’t get out of bed, may start self-medicating – and the list goes on.
Even though it could change the trajectory of an adolescents’ mental health condition, providers do not have adequate solutions to immediately, safely, and privately treat mental health needs. There remains a multitude of barriers that keep teens from accessing care where they need it and when they need it most. One of the most critical barriers is that there are simply not enough practitioners to meet the high demand for mental health services, creating long wait times for counseling appointments.
Adolescents may have an even harder time getting an appointment or keeping an appointment, since they must schedule around school and often rely on others for transportation. This particular patient population requires increased access to mental health care, yet much stands in the way.
To better meet the needs of patients, providers can improve access to treatment and offer more immediate solutions through the use of prescription digital therapeutics (PDTs). With technology, providers can now deliver programming aligned with proven mental health treatment methods, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, and connect teens and young adults to an immediate, safe, and effective treatment option.
Technology cannot replace good patient relationships, but the future of mental health care rests in leveraging technology that complements a clinician’s hands-on care. The last year and a half has underscored the need to shift rapidly and use new solutions in a meaningful way. People are becoming increasingly more receptive to telehealth and virtual treatment – especially teenagers and young adults. Now is the time for physicians to consider digital therapeutics to quickly and safely support their patients who need mental health treatment, intervening early to achieve better outcomes.
In recommending digital solutions to their patients facing mental health challenges, it is critical that clinicians feel confident in their recommendations. Unlike wellness apps, PDTs require strict compliance with FDA safety and efficacy standards and are validated through rigorous clinical trials. Upon FDA clearance, they can be prescribed by providers to treat specific medical conditions. Wellness apps aren’t required to meet these standards and typically do not undergo rigorous clinical testing, validation, or regulatory scrutiny. For mental health needs, PDTs can supplement other treatment modalities, including drug treatments and psychotherapy. Because PDTs are clinically-validated and evidence-based, providers can feel confident in their ability to support patients before their mental health conditions progress.
Importantly, PDTs are delivered to a patient on their own time and in the comfort of their own space. They are not time-consuming, with many programs designed to deliver the course of treatment over numerous weeks. Providing treatment solutions that meet the patient where they are can help to foster continued trust in the doctor-patient relationship.
The potential of PDTs in the mental health landscape is vast and will only continue to grow. As demand for psychotherapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, and even school counselors increase, PDTs unlock the possibility to support patients in a new way that complements providers’ work in the clinic. The use of PDTs will further strengthen the provider-patient relationship and lead to improved behavioral health outcomes.
Benjamin Alouf is a pediatrician. Lara Jaradat is a child and adolescent psychiatrist.
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