eMental Health and Substance Use Research

Statistics show a rapidly growing need for mental health services in Canada and worldwide. Mental health service providers have a very limited supply of professionals. Well evaluated technology can help to reach more patients, in coordination with health providers, but the technology must be rigorously evaluated. At present many apps are being marketed, but their quality is generally unknown. In this context, there is an urgent need to take stock of what is known about existing apps. If there are well evaluated apps, this would set the stage for scaling up those apps supported by credible evidence.

My research in mental health and substance use is focused on developing approaches to evaluate digital systems in terms of efficacy of outcomes measuring implementation metrics, and building scalable systems that can more effectively be integrated and assessed in real-time.



Current Projects

1. Standard metrics to assess outcomes of youth digital mental health interventions

To understand whether mental health apps are safe and effective, we must reliably measure mental health outcomes for those who use them. While there are many tools and methods available to monitor an individual's response to treatment, not all of these tools and methods have not been scientifically validated for use in the digital mental health world.

In this project, researchers explore which measurement scales, metrics, and methodologies are most effective for measuring outcomes related to anxiety and depression among youth who use mental health apps. The project will bring together leading experts in mental health and people with lived experience. Youth and parents will be engaged to identify the outcomes that matter most to them when using mental health apps. An expert panel of scientists will determine the tools, metrics, and methodologies to rigorously and effectively measure these priority outcomes. The result will be a standardized set of metrics and methods that can be used to assess app effectiveness, compare apps, and ultimately improve services to benefit users.

Research Team: Dr. Yuri Quintana (Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre, Harvard University, HRI), Dr. Roy Cameron (HRI), Dr. Travis Sztainert (Frayme), Alyna Walji (HRI), Zoe Liao (BIDMC), Avantika Pathak (BIDMC), Samantha Valliant (BIDMC)

2. Building a framework to assess mental health apps for youth

In 2020, HRI released a Framework to guide the development, evaluation, and regulation of mental health apps for youth. Led by HRI Collaborating Scientist Dr. Yuri Quintana, the Framework will help Canada and other countries develop a scientifically informed roadmap for expanding digital mental health tools.

With the McConnell Foundation's generous funding, the Framework is being used to conduct a scientific review of current digital therapies to address a priority health domain. The research team will also convene a wide range of stakeholders and mental health experts to draft recommendations to guide decision-makers to work towards regulation and policy development for digital therapies in Canada. National level roundtables will be held with experts to discuss emerging issues regarding privacy, data security, and evaluation of mental health apps' efficacy.

Research Team: Dr. Yuri Quintana (Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre, Harvard University, HRI), Dr. Roy Cameron (HRI), Alyna Walji (HRI), Zoe Liao (BIDMC), Avantika Pathak (BIDMC), Samantha Valliant (BIDMC)

3. Creating a prototype evidence-based youth mental health app

The project engages youth from Wellington County between the ages of 12 and 29 as partners in co-designing and piloting a prototype for an evidence-based mental health app for managing anxiety in the COVID-19 era.  The overall goal is to use this consultative process to develop a final prototype design informed by youth needs and meaningfully engages youth in the process. Youth will be engaged with design experts to identify what an app should have to meet its intended audience's needs and preferences. Participating youth will come from the Integrated Youth Services Network (IYSN), a partnership of more than 30 organizations working to build a new standard of care, support, and services for youth in Wellington County and Guelph. The app will be evaluated using HRI's App Evaluation Framework, developed in 2020.

Research Team: Dr. Yuri Quintana (Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre, Harvard University, HRI), Dr. Roy Cameron (HRI), Cyndy Moffatt Forsyth (IYSN), Sarah Sousa (HRI), Alyna Walji (HRI), Zoe Liao (BIDMC), Jessa Wilcoxen (Millikin University)

For more information on these projects, please contact Yuri Quintana, Ph.D. at yquintan@bidmc.harvard.edu

Past Projects

A framework for the evaluation of mobile apps for youth mental health
May 2020

This report represents a key step toward that goal. It presents a Framework that a) identifies critical issues that must be addressed in designing and evaluating apps, and b) outlines criteria and protocols for rigorously evaluating these issues to generate the evidence needed by those looking for credible apps. This type of Framework is novel and groundbreaking.

Youth mental health apps in the digital age: a scoping review of trends and evaluations
November 2019

This report provides an overview of published evidence pertaining to apps. The report indicates that at this stage, although there is some evidence related to the value of some apps, evaluations have been limited and incomplete. There is an urgent need for systematic, thorough, objective evaluation of apps to inform decisions about which apps are safe and effective.