Digital mental health companies have received huge amounts of investment from venture capitalists and others looking to address the behavioral health crisis facing the nation.
But it is not always clear whether their technologies are properly validated in large and diverse populations.
now, Headspace Healtha mental health solutions provider based in Santa Monica, California, is request third-party researchers to analyze how the company impacts mental health and wellness outcomes, particularly for diverse populations. It solicits peer-reviewed research proposals from academic institutions, non-profit organizations, government agencies, health institutions and other researchers. The company reviews proposals on a quarterly basis, with rejections or approvals sent the first week of each quarter, according to the submission link.
“We need more studies conducted by independent third-party researchers on the mechanisms, generalizability, and gaps in current solutions,” Lauren Lee, vice president of clinical product development and content, wrote in an email. “By learning the specific underlying mechanisms that explain how Headspace impacts positive member outcomes, we can demonstrate which aspect of our Headspace member experience is most powerful for our members as we continually refine and iterate on our product experience.”
In 2021, the company merged with digital mental health startup Ginger in a $3 billion deal. The combined entity provides meditation, therapy, coaching and psychiatry tools to consumers and sells its platform to employers and health plans. Its clients include Starbucks, Delta Air Lines and Cigna. Kaiser Permanente also recently announced began providing its members with the benefits of Headspace Health behavioral training.
A particular area that Headspace Health is looking for researchers to explore is the impact of its solutions on underserved populations, Lee said. Improving health equity is a key focus for the startup. It recently acquired Shine, an app that works to provide mental health support to marginalized communities.
“One big gap we identified in the literature is the impact of Headspace on different populations,” Lee said. “We hope to see more research that evaluates the impact of digital meditation and mindfulness among those in underserved or traditionally marginalized communities, clinical populations, and young adults.”
Headspace Health already has 40 published studies from peer-reviewed journals, one of which found it reduced anxiety symptoms by 19% and depression symptoms by 29% after eight weeks of use. But the startup hopes to further expand its research to find holes in its services, Lee said.
“An expanded body of research on the outcomes associated with digital tools for mental health and well-being will allow us and other digital health companies to identify gaps and strategies to improve the design of our solutions,” she said.
Headspace Health not only wants researchers to study its own company, but also wants other digital health startups to do the same, Lee said. Research can help determine what is working and what needs improvement in companies’ offerings.
“We hope to encourage others in the field of digital mental health and those in the digital health industry more broadly to critically evaluate how investment in research can accelerate the completion of more studies to better understand how digital solutions are moving the needle among consumers “behavioral health and outcomes,” Lee said.
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