Digital apothecaries: a vision for making health care interventions accessible worldwide

Mhealth. 2018 Jun 4:4:18. doi: 10.21037/mhealth.2018.05.04. eCollection 2018.


Evidence-based psychological interventions are growing in number but are not within reach of many individuals who could benefit from them. The recent revolution in digital technologies now makes it possible to reach people around the globe with digital interventions in the form of web sites, mobile applications, wearable devices, and so on. Although a plethora of digital interventions are available online few are evidence-based and individuals have little guidance to decide among the multitude of options. We propose the development of "digital apothecaries," that is, online repositories of evidence-based digital interventions. As portals to effective interventions, digital apothecaries would be useful to individuals who could access evidence-based interventions directly, to health care providers, who could identify specific digital tools to suggest to or use with their patients, and to researchers, who could study a range of tools with large samples, enabling comparative tests and evaluation of moderators of effects. We present a taxonomy of types of in-person and digital interventions ranging from traditional therapy without the use of digital tools to totally automated self-help interventions. This taxonomy highlights the potential of blending digital tools into health care systems to expand their reach. Digital apothecaries would provide access to evidence-based digital interventions (both free and paid versions), provide data on effectiveness (including effectiveness for diverse populations), and encourage the development and testing of more such tools. Other issues discussed include: criteria for inclusion of interventions into digital apothecaries; how digital tools could enhance health care for diverse populations; and cautionary notes regarding potential negative unintended consequences of the adoption of digital interventions into the health care system. In particular, we warn about the potential misuse of evidence-based digital interventions to justify reducing access to live providers. Digital apothecaries bring with them the promise of reducing health disparities by reaching large numbers of individuals across the world who need health interventions but are not currently receiving them. The health care field is encouraged to mindfully develop this promise, while being alert not to cause inadvertent harm.

Keywords: dissemination; internet interventions; mHealth; mental health; mobile apps.

Publication types

  • Review