What are the Leading Behavioral Health Apps?
By Kathleen Greer
Last spring KGA undertook a project to identify the current “Best 10 Behavioral Health Apps for 2014.” The purpose of the project was two-fold: 1) to equip EAP counselors with a variety of high-quality apps that could serve as an adjunct to counseling sessions and referrals for therapy; and 2) To draw attention to quality apps in the marketplace.
Why Project was Necessary
With the U.S. workforce now made up of 36% Millennials and 16% GenXers, these “digital natives” see apps as a viable mechanism for self-help. According to the analytics company Flurry, “Overall app use in 2013 posted 115% year-over-year growth,” with each app category increasing. As times are changing, some of the most essential ways to communicate and benefit clients are through technology, such as mobile applications. Employee and family member access to health information is rapidly changing:
* 19% of adult smartphone users have a health app;
* 72% of U.S. adults have looked online for health information in the past year; and
* Eight out of 10 health inquiries start on search engines.
Starting a Proactive Health Campaign
As a “high-touch” employee assistance program, KGA wanted to reach out to covered lives through a proactive health promotion program. We also wanted to be sure that counselors were recommending quality downloads. With the help of the entire staff, KGA set out to evaluate 250 current behavioral health apps by applying the following criteria.
* Topics (i.e. anxiety, depression, stress, and sleep/relaxation);
* Clinical effectiveness;
* History of updates and any necessary “bug fixes”;
* Customer ratings;
* Customer reviews;
* Popularity (number of downloads); and
* Availability (Android, Apple, or both).
Narrowing the List
The list was shortened to 35 apps that clients could use in addition to the counseling they may have already been receiving. The reviews helped to narrow the search, as they provided testimonials on the efficacy of the apps, especially for severe stress, anxiety, and sleep deprivation.
The KGA counseling staff tried these apps on their own and then gave their feedback and ratings. As the counselors are the ones providing assistance to employees every day, their extensive knowledge of conditions and methods of support and improvement was crucial to finding the most constructive apps for behavioral health.
The apps were each tested by trusted staff to confirm their reliability, simplicity, and efficiency, as well as the overall aesthetics. Counselors were asked to comment on what type of client might benefit from the particular app they tested. Some apps didn’t make the list for clinical reasons.
For example, the counselors really liked the Good Sex, Great Marriage app, but worried about the possibility that clients would use it when they were in abusive relationships. Since our plans included the distribution of the “Ten Best App” list to the public, counselors worried that people in abusive relationships would use it inappropriately.
Marketing the Project
The next challenge was to introduce the health app promotion to our EAP customers; both HR and benefits contacts and the employees and family members. The marketing program included the following activities:
* A letter was sent out to clients to introduce the project.
* A wallet card was produced for health fairs that identified the apps.
* PowerPoint slides were created for various presentations.
* Videos were produced that introduced and highlighted the functionality of the apps.
* A social media campaign was launched on Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin.
* Each app developer was contacted as the apps were launched.
Facebook likes for KGA tripled in the first three weeks of the promotion and the apps were introduced around the country at several conferences such as the National Behavioral Consortium, EAPA, and New England Employee Benefits Council (NEEBC).
As of February 2015, roughly 10% of KGA’s client organizations forwarded the e-newsletter about the Top Ten Apps directly to their workforce resulting in 11,646 opens. More often, clients placed a link to the newsletter on their intranet. One health care system employing 4,039 employees distributed the promotion widely, resulting in 5,298 opens.
The app webpage on the KGA website was viewed by 773 people. KGA distributed 4,650 app wallet cards during health fair season and continues to discuss the app project in wellness planning meetings. YouTube videos created by KGA were viewed by 902 individuals.
The Top 10 Behavioral Health Apps were…
* Optimism – Track your mood, behavior, triggers, and coping strategies to find out what works best for you over time and how to remain positive through difficult situations. Try out this emotional well-being app on iOS (version 4.3 or newer) as an adjunct to counseling for free.
* MindShift – This free mental wellness app is available for both iOS (version 5.0 or newer) and Android. It gives users the opportunity to learn about anxiety, panic and how they can control it. The inspirational quotes may help someone who is trying to think more positively.
* SnoreLab – This app keeps a record of snoring, as well as any lapses of breathing, which could indicate sleep apnea. For an employee who contacts the EAP because of insomnia, this sleep management app can be used during the counseling session. It can be found for iOS (version 6.0 or newer) for $1.99.
* What’s My M3 – This free mental wellness app (iOS version 7.0 or newer and Android) allows the user to administer a self-test of symptoms of disorders such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and OCD. It is ideal for reaching someone who is reluctant to ask for help, but responds to self-assessments.
* Tactical Breather – Relax at a moment’s notice with simple breathing exercises led by a soothing male or female voice. This mental wellness app is available for both iOS (version 4.3 or newer) and Android for free. This app takes the stress out of teaching relaxation because it provides instant access to a variety of exercises.
* My Fitness Pal – Track your weight through this easy-to-use and supportive weight management app found on both iOS (version 6.0 or newer) and Android for free. My Fitness Pal helps to motivate an individual who is having difficulty building fitness into their daily routine by reaching back out and suggesting simple, behavioral techniques such as a “squat challenge” or healthy recipe.
* Quit Smoking with Andrew Johnson – This mental wellness app, for both iOS (version 7.0 or newer) and Android for $2.99, is for anyone committed to kicking this bad habit to the curb in 2015. For individuals who are struggling with nicotine addiction, this app and reminder tool augments counseling.
* Mind Tools – Build over 100 personal and business skills in your free time through an assortment of topics, including team management and stress management. This management app is available for both iOS (version 5.1 or newer) and Android for free. For an employee who has been referred to the EAP because of specific work challenges, Mind Tools can offer a convenient way to offer specific development activities.
* Get Some Headspace – This free mental wellness app offers ten sessions of 10-minute meditation that concentrates on breathing and focusing strategies given through calming audios. This app is ideal for a client who doesn’t have the time or money to join a 10-week class, but wants to begin a meditation program.
* Recovery Record: Eating Disorder Management – Track and control an eating disorder by logging all of your meals, snacks, thoughts, and feelings throughout the day. As an adjunct to eating disorder treatment, Recovery Record can take the place of journaling and worksheets. Download for either iOS (version 4.3 or newer) or Android for free.
As with any recommendation or referral from the EAP, follow-up with employees is essential. To incorporate an app into one’s life requires motivation and action. Success with apps improves if clients are able to download the app and view it with the counselor during their counseling session.
Kristin Matthews, Clinical Manager at KGA says, “I often use the Optimism app as an adjunct to counseling. What I like about it is that a client can track her sleep, mood, or alcohol use, and then email me the information right from the app. This gives us important data to review together.
“I also appreciate the convenience of apps,” Matthews added. “In the past, I referred people to CDs for guided meditation, but now they can access great tools right from their phones.”
The apps were well received by the HR and Benefits clients as a creative approach to health promotion. One HR client said, “This is a fabulous way to reach our younger population,” while another stated, “There are so many apps, I never knew where to start.”
Kathleen Greer is founder and chairman of the Framingham, Mass.-based KGA, Inc., which provides EAP services to over 100 organizations. Kathy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Developing an App: Proceed with Caution
By Seth Moeller
The question is not so much how might an EAP go about building an app, but should they develop one?
We understand the pressure to jump into the world of apps through the questions we receive from our clients and benefit consultants. We also see EAP providers that have recently offered apps. However, when we take a step back and evaluate the apps being introduced, we are not convinced that simply having an app adds value for clients, or for KGA. Having an app may be all the rage, but EAP practitioners considering whether to develop an app need to consider the following questions:
* Will the app offer new or differentiated content? Almost without exception, we see EAPs offering a limited selection of what a user can find on the existing member website.
* Will the point of access to the EAP be improved or changed? Will access be increased? Often new apps are only putting an existing phone number in a new place.
* Will the app change the communication channel between the EAP and the employee population? If so, where will this leave the employer? To date, we do not see this being offered, nor do we view employers as ready to have a vendor partner with an open channel to their employees.
* How will the app change or improve the employee’s situation? With the exception of some good behavioral/mental health apps that do help users address real issues the EAP apps we see do not provide or facilitate solutions for the employee seeking support. They still need a person-to-person conversation with a skilled and experienced counselor.
Conversely, an EAP app might add real value if it did things such as:
* Allow the end user to customize how and when he/she contacts the EAP. There are so many channels of communication available today that helping an employee choose and manage preferred channels may add value by lowering the perceived barriers to using the service.
* Distill new content releases and upcoming events (i.e. podcasts, webinars, onsite events, etc.). The content would focus on “what’s new” and targeted messages from the EAP (i.e. content aligning with a national observation such as Mental Health Month, etc.)
* Compensate for outdated member websites that are not mobile enabled. It’s possible an app would allow better mobile access to content in this case. This would assume that a content-focused app would be of value.
Seth Moeller is the President of KGA, Inc., in Framingham, Mass.