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Employers Increase Access to Mental Health-Related Chatbots or Apps

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Employers are increasingly offering wellness chatbots as a worker benefit.

About two-thirds of large employers have added access to mental health-related chatbots or apps over the past three years, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported Wednesday (Dec. 27), citing data from benefits consulting firm Mercer.

These chatbots use artificial intelligence (AI) to hold therapist-like conversations and provide mental health support to employees, according to the report. This is becoming more important as the demand for mental health counselors continues to rise while the supply of providers decreases.

One example of this trend is PayrollPlans, a Dallas-based provider of benefits software used by small and medium-sized businesses, the report said. The company has started providing access to a chatbot called Woebot, which is expected to be used by about 9,400 employers in 2024.

Amazon also offers a similar service called Twill, which tracks the moods of users and creates personalized mental health plans, per the report.

Supporters of these mental health apps argue that they alleviate symptoms such as anxiety, loneliness and depression, according to the report. They are available at any time, making them accessible to individuals who may not be able to fit traditional therapy into their schedules or find an available therapist.

However, some researchers caution that there isn’t sufficient evidence to prove the effectiveness of these programs, the report said. Additionally, concerns about data security and privacy have been raised.

There is a growing recognition among employers that mental health support is crucial for their employees, per the report. The struggles faced by workers during the pandemic have prompted employers, insurers, and Medicaid and Medicare programs to increase their offerings in this area.

The use of artificial intelligence in these mental health apps varies, according to the report. Some apps, like Limbic, use large language models to create human-like conversations. Others, like Talkspace, use AI to analyze messages between clients and therapists to identify individuals at risk of self-harm.

These apps can be particularly appealing to workers who prefer not to have in-person therapy visits and can help bridge the gap caused by the shortage of therapists, the report said.

PYMNTS Intelligence has found that 38% of U.S. patients use digital healthcare options to receive remote counseling, telemedicine or both.

In May 2022, 26% of patients sought out both telemedicine and remote counseling services, 8% used telemedicine options exclusively and 4% used remote counseling exclusively, according to “The Connected Economy™: The Trend Toward Digital Healthcare,” a PYMNTS and CareCredit collaboration.