Digital health apps turned into crisis hotlines: Companies struggle to respond

Digital health apps used for virtual visits and chats are increasingly being used as suicide crisis hotlines, according to STAT.

Now, digital health companies are struggling the develop the proper response to these patients' confessions of suicidal thoughts.

Ada Health is among the digital health companies  seeing an influx in suicide calls. The company's app allows users to input their symptoms or medical complaints, prompting a diagnosis from the app. The startup has completed 10 million health assessments since its 2016 launch. Of those, 130,000 were  users expressing suicidal thoughts or behaviors, according to the STAT analysis.

Telemedicine company American Well has experienced the same scenarios. In one case, a patient was receiving a virtual consultation when she told the physician her spouse had punched her. In the background, the physician could hear the spouse shouting. The physician called 911.

In Ada's app, if a user responds "yes" to having tried to end his life today, the app will instruct  to call an ambulance

Patients also send these companies emails about their suicidal thoughts. Digital health customer support teams are often left researching and recommending local mental health resources as a response to the crisis emails.

Experts are recommending that digital health companies research and evaluate their practices to develop strategies to deal with the crisis calls. Instead of just winging it, steps can be taken to identify best practices to implement.

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