Digital Mental Health Competencies – Workforce Considerations

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While funding for digital health hits new highs every quarter, this past one saw over six billion dollars going to companies across the health care spectrum. A key element for long-term success will be the creation of digital health competencies. What is the current state of thinking around how best to embed these tools into clinical care? What will clinicians need to leverage this new layer of therapeutics successfully? A recent paper in Digital Health by Helen Pote and colleagues from the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom explores the workforce challenges in digital health implementation.

The NHS has engaged in a planful development and deployment of digital solutions in their model of care. They have also partnered with universities to craft a workforce development educational pipeline to prepare psychologists and counselors for care settings within the NHS. While the evidence base regarding the value of digital mental health continues to grow, over 100 Randomized Clinical Trials (RCTs) showing that online or app-based CBT is efficacious, real-world implementation continues to be fraught with difficulties. Exploration of what’s needed to develop digital health competencies is now appropriately in the spotlight. 

The NHS has a framework focusing on “Health and Care Digital Capabilities,” which outlines the necessary competencies professionals need to support optimal digital practice. The authors reflect that more work is required given the rapid expansion of digital health. 

To understand the space more deeply, they proposed three areas of inquiry; what competencies psychologists need, what current levels of training are provided in academic settings, and lastly, what opportunities and barriers exist for developing digital mental health competencies. They administered a 16-item questionnaire across eighteen of the thirty Clinical Psychology Doctoral training programs in the UK. The questions addressed the current training received and assessed the skills acquired during the doctoral training program. They also probed on barriers and facilitators for digital mental health.

The survey had a 60% response rate. Findings show two major developmental themes; firstly, over 50% of the respondents want clinical practice guidelines to support digital mental health deployment. Secondly, most respondents endorse the idea of competencies but are not currently integrating them into their clinical and teaching placements.

The work ahead emphasizes developing knowledge, skills, and training in digital mental health and if these tools are to be optimally deployed to benefit patients. Over 64% of respondents endorse the importance of digital mental health in the future practice of psychologists. 

Striking the right balance between the rapid expansion of these digital therapeutics with the need for ongoing scientific rigor across the care continuum will be imperative as this space matures. Creating a stakeholder network within professional societies will also be an essential next step in informing potential accreditation in digital mental health. There is no doubt that a lot of noise exists within digital health that will continue to erode confidence in the utility of these new tools. Partnerships to develop the science base for efficacy and implementation of this new digital layer will be necessary to define value for all parties. 

Thanks for reading – Trina

(Opinions are my own)


Pote H, Rees A, Holloway-Biddle C, Griffith E. Workforce challenges in digital health implementation: How are clinical psychology training programmes developing digital competencies?. Digit Health. 2021;7:2055207620985396. Published 2021 Feb 11. doi:10.1177/2055207620985396

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