Accelerating digital mental health research from early design and creation to successful implementation and sustainment

David C. Mohr*, Aaron R. Lyon, Emily G. Lattie, Madhu Reddy, Stephen M. Schueller

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


Mental health problems are common and pose a tremendous societal burden in terms of cost, morbidity, quality of life, and mortality. The great majority of people experience barriers that prevent access to treatment, aggravated by a lack of mental health specialists. Digital mental health is potentially useful in meeting the treatment needs of large numbers of people. A growing number of efficacy trials have shown strong outcomes for digital mental health treatments. Yet despite their positive findings, there are very few examples of successful implementations and many failures. Although the research-To-practice gap is not unique to digital mental health, the inclusion of technology poses unique challenges. We outline some of the reasons for this gap and propose a collection of methods that can result in sustainable digital mental health interventions. These methods draw from human-computer interaction and implementation science and are integrated into an Accelerated Creation-To-Sustainment (ACTS) model. The ACTS model uses an iterative process that includes 2 basic functions (design and evaluate) across 3 general phases (Create, Trial, and Sustain). The ultimate goal in using the ACTS model is to produce a functioning technology-enabled service (TES) that is sustainable in a real-world treatment setting. We emphasize the importance of the service component because evidence from both research and practice has suggested that human touch is a critical ingredient in the most efficacious and used digital mental health treatments. The Create phase results in at least a minimally viable TES and an implementation blueprint. The Trial phase requires evaluation of both effectiveness and implementation while allowing optimization and continuous quality improvement of the TES and implementation plan. Finally, the Sustainment phase involves the withdrawal of research or donor support, while leaving a functioning, continuously improving TES in place. The ACTS model is a step toward bringing implementation and sustainment into the design and evaluation of TESs, public health into clinical research, research into clinics, and treatment into the lives of our patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere153
JournalJournal of medical Internet research
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2017


  • Ehealth
  • Methodology
  • Mhealth

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics

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