Digital mental health companies a 'catastrophe waiting to happen,' warns industry exec

Behavioral health professionals are concerned that for-profit, corporate online behavioral healthcare companies don't adequately train their practitioners and have questionable prescription protocols, liabilities that one industry veteran called "a catastrophe waiting to happen," Kaiser Health News reported July 8.

Though studies have found face-to-face video mental health sessions to be just as effective as in-person encounters, not all digital mental health companies use real-time therapy.

Online text-based therapy services that companies such as BetterHealth use don't meet the American Psychological Association's criteria for evidence-based therapy.

Some online behavioral health treatment companies, such as Cerebral, prescribe psychiatric medication online, which also worries more experienced providers, according to Kaiser Health News.

Bob Kocher, MD, president of Lyra Clinical Associates in Burlingame, Calif., told Kaiser Health News that prescribing medications without adequate diagnostic work or continuing talk therapy would be "worrisome, because antidepressants are not without their own serious risks, including suicide."

Cerebral's Adderall-prescribing practices are being investigated for possible violation of the Controlled Substances Act.

Marlene Maheu, PhD, a clinical psychologist and founder of the Telebehavioral Health Institute, said she is concerned that companies may not give their therapists training in how to deliver safe, effective and ethical therapy online, citing little government or professional regulation to protect consumers.

"What’s happening is a corporate takeover of behavioral healthcare by digital entrepreneurs," Dr. Maheu told Kaiser Health News. "This industry is a catastrophe waiting to happen."

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