Mental health- What should we build and how should we build it?- I

In an ideal world nothing should be built. An ideal mind just lets things be. But we are neither living in an ideal world nor can have ideal minds – so we decide to build. What is the good, the bad and the ugly? The same product can be made with empathy and used with diligence or made callously and misused. There are different types of products in the health-tech market today- mainly educative health apps for the general user, cloud-based SaaS platforms for clinics or hospitals and online therapy including teleconsultation with a therapist. The health apps either educate you about your physical or mental self (yoga, meditation, how the mind works, what is fitness etc) and/or guide you towards wellness. Some apps like Yourdost, InnerHour, Wysa and iwilltherapy have done a great job on mental health – they provide online therapy and teleconsultation as an option amidst many educative resources on education. Each of them approaches the problem of the mind and mental health differently giving enough variety for people to choose from. Wysa has gone a step ahead offering an AI enabled empathetic listening chatbot that listens to you, asks questions on your wellness, offers advice and educates and guides you to the resources you need. I think the experience is very human and the effort that has gone into designing the behavioral aspect of it is worth appreciation. Some companies like Healthifyme offer employee wellness packages as well.


What can go wrong? There are many instances where people have abused such platforms to hog the space and time of others who really need help as well as waste the valuable resources and time of therapists who join with a benevolent intention of helping others. This happened when Betterhelp had just started out with its newly launched online counseling and therapy space- I have experienced it personally when I tried the role of a “Listener” a few times. I also tried to be an outlaw-ic user on one such app to see how they perform in exceptional circumstances- not so well. I am reminded of the days when Online chatrooms were just introduced on earth in the late 90’s J. I wouldn’t want the same unsafe, unmonitored platform for therapy. 


Another concern is about the theatrics involved in video calls taken from home- I often find myself looking into the "mirror" while talking to the 2d person on the other side of the screen. My nephew walks into the room when I am discussing the most critical part of my work. I make gestures for him to get out. Right then my flurry companion runs in and jumps onto my bed. I decide about where to sit for a call based on what can be seen behind me, not necessarily the best space for a serious conversation. Do these things need to be looked into while designing a tele-consultation call for a patient-therapist interaction? How do we implement a protocol that assures complete attentiveness to the patient- an initial chat before the call? In my mind I have imagined a therapy clinic to be a beautiful space – warm, cozy, informal and with coffee or orange juice and ice cream- something that makes the person feel they are special. How can such a protocol be designed?



Therapy and the technology that is supporting it needs to be taken very seriously. The Technology team and the product owner of a startup should have nothing less than love and empathy in mind for the stakeholders- therapists and patients and a very strong grip of the psychology domain if they venture into creating such platforms. Always remember that nothing can replace a human being and we cannot design anything less than a very compassionate human experience especially for those who are going through challenges. To solve the above problem for example we need to make sure we have enough therapist resources available, something to monitor the teletherapy space to identify exceptions, a very warm welcome to the newcomer and surely a very robust design that does not allow such incidents to happen in the first place.



A different kind of challenge is faced by Healthcare providers using SaaS platforms for clinics and hospitals. In small clinics the challenge may not be big but in hospitals if the staff is not trained well enough on the software platforms, most time is wasted on figuring out billing, scheduling, data entry as opposed to what should be spent on attending to the patients. Lack of training or support, motivation or a well-designed software incurs costs. What comes next is poor service. We don’t want doctors or nurses to be typing away or looking up patient history while the patient is waiting to be served. Strong training support and a good design can remove some of these hurdles and lead to higher acceptance of the tools and consequently better patient engagement.

Data Privacy

A few important questions around building cloud solutions for Mobile or web apps in this domain- Does the app have a privacy policy, a login or pin entry, data encryption of patient data, description of information storage and sharing for users, does the app state that users can edit, delete information, can users use the app without entering identifiable information, is user information stored locally? Who can access patient data? Who can use patient data?