New Brief Reviews Evidence on Behavioral Health Apps for Primary and Integrated Care


The role of digital technologies in behavioral healthcare, especially apps for smart devices, is growing. The ability of apps and other digital technologies to connect people and information across time and location makes them a potentially valuable support to efforts to integrate behavioral health and primary care. They offer beneficial features such as psychoeducation, symptom and other health data tracking, goal and habit setting, mindfulness meditation and other coping techniques for patients with behavioral health conditions. However, thousands of behavioral health apps are currently available in commercial app stores, with only an estimated 3 to 4 percent grounded in evidence. These digital technologies can also be challenging to implement and are not without risk to patients with behavioral health conditions. There is also no single governmental or private organization that certifies their privacy, safety, or effectiveness. These factors make navigating the rapidly evolving world of behavioral health applications challenging for providers.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) Academy has released a new topic brief, Potential Usefulness of Apps and Other Digital Technologies for Improving Access to Behavioral Health in Primary Care, which offers an overview of the evidence for behavioral health apps and key considerations related to finding, evaluating, and selecting apps to recommend or prescribe in primary and integrated care settings. While the field of digital healthcare is too young for definitive guidance, this resource briefly describes what behavioral health apps are, the benefits and risks of recommending apps for patients, questions to think about when selecting an app, and where to find additional information.

For some of the latest studies on behavioral health apps and their use in primary and integrated care settings, visit the Academy’s literature collection.