Design and Development of a Digital Program for Training Non-Specialist Health Workers to Deliver an Evidence-Based Psychological Treatment for Depression in Primary Care in India

J Technol Behav Sci. 2020 Dec;5(4):402-415. doi: 10.1007/s41347-020-00154-7. Epub 2020 Aug 31.


Background: Digital technologies hold promise for building capacity of non-specialist health workers towards scaling up depression care in low-resource settings. The purpose of this study was to describe the systematic approach to designing a digital program for training non-specialist health workers to deliver an evidence-based brief psychological treatment for depression, called the Healthy Activity Program, in primary care in rural India.

Methods: The design and development of the training program involved 5 steps: 1) develop program blueprint; 2) create instructional content; 3) digitize content for a smartphone app; 4) develop a platform for uploading and hosting the digital content; and 5) user-testing and refinements to ensure program functioning. This was followed by field-testing and focus group discussions with non-specialist health workers recruited from primary care facilities in Madhya Pradesh, India, to inform further modifications and improvements to the digital training program.

Results: Training program development occurred over 12-months, and the final digital training consisted of 16 modules with videos, role-plays, and digital content tailored to the local culture and context. Focus group discussions with 19 non-specialist health workers generated three key action items and modifications to the digital training in response to participant feedback: 1) addressing technical challenges by making the digital content available offline; 2) account for low digital literacy by including a comprehensive orientation session about navigating the smartphone app; and 3) addition of remote coaching to support participants in completing the training.

Conclusions: This study illustrates a step-wise approach to combine evidence-based content with iterative feedback from stakeholders to develop a digital training program tailored to the context in a low-resource setting. Further research is needed to validate this approach and to evaluate the effectiveness of the final modified digital training program, while considering whether this approach can be adopted and replicated in other settings.

Keywords: depression; digital technology; health systems; mental health; non-specialist health worker; online learning; primary care; program development; psychological treatment; task sharing; training.