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‘Digital apothecaries’ to deliver online interventions

News Item

posted by Research Admin 1 on 25 February 2019



eHealthNews: 15 February, 2019

Hospitals or clinics could have a ‘digital apothecary’ to provide access to evidence-based digital interventions for patients. 

This is the future envisioned by distinguished professor of clinical psychology at Palo Alto University, Ricardo Muñoz, who was speaking at the International Society for Internet Interventions in Auckland on 13 February.

He explained that interventions would be in a person’s own language and healthcare providers would be able to ‘prescribe’ specific digital interventions to their patients.

Helpers/coaches in these digital apothecaries could also assist patients to use computers to access their self-help digital ‘prescriptions’.

Muñoz said that consumable interventions are very expensive, meaning healthcare is often considered prohibitively expensive.

“By providing Massive Open Online Interventions at no charge or very low cost, ISRII could contribute to making healthcare a universal human right,” he said.

However, he also warned that “ISRII needs to provide access to the things that our science has developed without adding more domination, more colonialism”.

Part of this involves increasing research that addresses and includes indigenous and diverse populations.

In the US, mandating inclusion of minority populations has been difficult to enforce, Muñoz said. 

Requirements that clinical research include women and racial minorities has not had the intended impact, and in genomic studies in 2016, 81 per cent of all participants of were of European descent.

“We at ISRII need to avoid that mistake,” he said. 

Evidence-based internet interventions can be made widely available at little cost and therefore have great potential to reduce health disparities worldwide. 

However, some have argued that they may in fact increase disparities because “access to internet interventions tends to be by educated people with more money,” explained Muñoz.

A global study on an internet interventions to help people quit smoking found that people in richer countries were able to quit at higher rates and, within countries, people with greater education and income had higher quit rates.

However, Muñoz argued that by providing the internet intervention to people who previously had no interventions, it was still reducing disparities.

He believes that the creation of digital apothecaries would increase global access.

In places without hospitals or clinics, lay health workers could be trained to deliver internet interventions if they had the technology.

“What if we provided lay health workers with tablets or laptops to share digital interventions that have been tested in those populations, so that they can make the interventions accessible to local people who may not know how to use digital devices?”