Furthering our unpacking of the mentaltech space, let’s take a look at the subcategory of therapeutic mobile apps. These have an overlap with telepsych and VR categories, consists largely of eXBT apps. [eXBT = electronic miscellaneous behavioral therapies] I define these apps as those that either: 1) deliver therapy, or 2) are approved therapeutic agents themselves. Anecdotally, I think the greatest volume of mentaltech applications, across all categories, are here.
Therapeutic apps are a blessing in their allowance of a greater reach, frequency and convenience of therapy access, delivered in: a) synchronous human, b) asynchronous human and c) artificial intelligence contexts. Therapy delivering apps, as distinct from “therapy themselves” apps can come in the form of: a) wellness care delivery like “predictive AI assisted” Mindoula or YouPer, and “personal routes oriented” MindDistrict, or b) psycho-education and brain training like Happy Neuron. This is a crowded space where differentiations can be thin and difficult to nail down.
From a business model standpoint, “therapy delivery” apps makes for relatively lower development costs, and faster funding and revenue generation on the basis of use of already proven therapeutic methods. The hazard to this approach is “low barriers to entry” as can be seen by how crowded this subspace is. Let’s keep observing how this subspace shakes out, and who is left standing. One might also say there is no need for shakeout when you consider the magnitude of unmet demand for such services that still exists all over the planet.
Upon discovering this category, it left me with the impression that “an” alternate description of space might be “monetized and democratized XBT”. 🙂 Behavioral therapies are far from new. Their merger with electronic means give them tremendous additional scale potential all over the world. That said, there is a lot of work ahead to convert investment and development into adoption with usability, security, belief in efficacy, and affordability still forming adoption barriers.
Therapeutic applications which are themselves therapies are typified by a regulatory review and approval that essential classify them as a diagnostic/medical device or agent, companion to, or part of, a pharmacologic, or biologic. When we hear the newly popularized term, digital therapeutics like with Proteus Digital Health or Pear Therapeutics, this is the type of company being referred to. For those deeply interested in this area, check out the recently minted Digital Therapeutics Alliance.
From a business model stand point, “therapies themselves”, take more investment, and patience, to conduct the research studies and reviews to obtain regulatory approval. This credential established, they have higher barriers to competitive entry and the basis for asking for greater revenues per transaction.
Again, the beauty of this category is in how it is expanding:
- reach, frequency and convenience of access to therapy,
- treator’s patient base & variety,
- the ability to diagnose and track health and disease status towards more precise treatment and better scaled outcomes, and
- the range of real world data collected, as basis for more evidence creation, and selection of efficacious approaches
The usual cautionary suspects are:
- efficacy evidence awareness, regarding the scope and quality of evidence generated in this space. An aspect of this matter is “solution” overload and the challenge of sorting through offerings for proper fit and contextual application. I have confidence this will resolve itself with time but today there is a “wild west feel about this space”, and especially among the therapy-delivering subspace.
- the safe holding of data and privacy, where too many of these apps are unverified when it comes to this matter. By the way, I was exchanging messages with Dr. John Torous, Digital Psychiatry Director at Beth Israel Deaconness Medical Center, on this topic. He enlightened me regarding the American Psychiatric Association’s Mental Health App Evaluation Model. It is broadly available to developers for use but no one is broadly applying it as a form of certification for apps. This is a big opportunity though one has to acknowledge that this is a lot of work for such a voluminous and fluid body of solutions as this space is.
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