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Considering apps as part of your wellbeing strategy

29 July 2022

Eugene Farrell, Mental Health Consultancy Lead, AXA Health

With 30 years’ experience in the UK healthcare arena, Eugene Farrell provides thought leadership for AXA Health. 

Eugene Farrell

Following a 32% growth in 2019-2020 there’s now more than 350,000 health apps in the market with Deloitte estimating more than 20% growth next year too. With 1 in 5 health apps supporting Mental Health – the market is left with a huge choice1.

How are people using apps for mental health?

Research shows that those with an existing mental health condition are more likely to have an app2. Data from ORCHA, an organisation that reviews health apps, says that post-Covid, the use of apps to support depression has risen by 86% and apps that help with self-harm prevention has risen by 76%. AXA Health’s own Mind Health Index showed 34% of workers and 36% of people managers recovered via self-care.

A wellbeing app is not a quick fix for organisations concerned about their employee’s wellbeing. It needs to form part of wider wellbeing strategy with clear objectives, outcomes and measurement.

Driving workplace engagement is strategic

Helping employees to use an app for support is more than reminders, just as a wellbeing strategy needs to be nurtured, and communicated regularly, so too does an app. Regular, relevant communication is vital as is social influence. Providing guidance on how and when an app can help with someone’s wellbeing can be positive especially when given by health professionals3.

Your selection will be key

How an app communicates complex health concepts and interventions is key to its design. Too simplistic, and it may appear unappealing, while overly medicalised jargon may be off putting. Employers need to pay close attention to the language and positioning of any app, as well as the robustness of the assessment tools and guidance they offer. 

Workplace interventions should provide action planning, personal insight and monitor progress against goals, these are preferred factors that influence engagement and utilisation4. Increasing the personal nature of the support adds relevancy to the individual, increasing its therapeutic relationship, and positively influences outcome. Other useful features are the opportunity to rehearse behaviour change actions and practice5, the provision of rewards, and positive tone with low cognitive load6.

Sensitivity to risk is critical. When someone presents risk to themselves it’s essential that the app is able to refer to support or connect directly to help. 

Remaining relevant in the market, creates a development burden not associated with the clinical efficacy of the app itself, but rather on user experience. Employers need to ensure they are working with providers who ensure their app does not go stale.

Chosen apps must utilise behavioural change modelling such as capability, opportunity and motivation. Opportunity through its availability every day, motivation through encouragement, stigma reduction and social influence and capability through training and instruction. However, workplace interventions should not be just there for when times are difficult, like all good wellbeing strategies it is about creating wellness for every day – helping improve health literacy, insight and self-regulation.

Business guidance

Aggregated employee data over time, can be used to assess trends informing strategic progress and pace toward objectives. But an app alone is just one set of data, value and insight comes when combined with other data to form a complete and meaningful picture.

Looking onwards

The future for health apps may be the ability to share patient’s data with clinicians to have shared decision making. Discussing outcome data in a digital form can be a very different conversation to discussing mood or emotions. Whilst this may be considered perhaps reductionist in some ways, for some patients this may provide a new way for them to relate to and understand their mental wellbeing.

Apps are here to stay, at least for now, and digital therapeutics will be part of wellbeing and treatment.

1 Iqvidia Digital Health Trends, Digital Health Trends 2021 - IQVIA, 2021
2 Connoly, 2021 
3 Persis, 2021
4 Perski.S, 2021
5 Mc Kay, 2019
6 Szinay, 2020

Small Steps to Big Changes - How an app can help unlock wellbeing for your employees

Explore the role of apps in workplace wellbeing strategies, particularly how an app can help unlock wellbeing for your employees, provided exclusive insight into how wellbeing apps can:

  • Help employees improve their wellbeing by making small changes and adopting healthy new habits
  • Signpost your people to helpful resources to support them with physical and mental wellbeing issues, anywhere and anytime
  • Help you develop and improve your wellbeing strategy by using data-collection and tracking features
  • Give your people access to help and support, so they feel empowered to take control of their health.


Watch our webinar “Small Steps to Big Changes - How an app can help unlock wellbeing for your employees.”  to learn more about apps in the workplace.

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