A health insurance firm tested the AI app Wysa with 60,000 members who needed mental health support
"The impact of digital self-help for members we identified as moderate or high need is significant. The results demonstrate the potential as a preventive tool as well as providing on-demand support for those who need it. We look forward to continuing to work with Wysa to extend access to more Vitality members.” Dr Katie Tryon, director of health strategy, Vitality
A pilot study by health insurer Vitality has found that members who used the Wysa app, which offers chat support powered by artificial intelligence (AI), experienced a reduction in anxiety and depression symptoms.
The firm identified a cohort of 60,000 VitalityHealth members who had been screened as being in need of support for their mental health. The group were offered access to Wysa Premium for a year. Each user’s anxiety and depression score was measured using standardised clinical questionnaires: GAD-7 for generalised anxiety disorder and PHQ-9 for depression.
After 28 days of using the app, the scores were measured again. There were stastically and clinically significant improvements in the mental health assessment scores after across all the different cohorts. Before and after screening on GAD-7 showed a 31% reduction in moderate anxiety symptoms (average scores of 14.5 reduced to 10) and a 38% reduction for severe anxiety (average scores of 17.4 reduced to 12.5). PHQ-9 screening questionnaires for depression showed a 40% reduction in symptoms for those suffering moderate depression (average scores of 16.6 reduced to 10.2) and a 35% reduction for those indicating severe depression (average scores of 19.1 reduced to 12.5).
The study also found that 83% of Vitality members in the pilot said they found Wysa helpful, with 88% returning repeatedly to use the app.
Ramakant Vempati, who founded Wysa, said: “The improvements in scores are extremely positive and show that Wysa helps at clinically significant levels for those suffering moderate-to-severe symptoms. This is further evidence that Wysa genuinely helps people on a large scale.”
The Wysa app uses natural language processing to understand the user’s free text inputs with the AI chatbot. Based on the triage scores and AI conversation, Wysa then generates an automated self-care pathway. Every Wysa response is written by a qualified psychologist and tested for clinical safety.
The AI chatbot guides users through Wysa’s library of evidence-based mental well-being exercises. Wysa also sends notifications at agreed check-in times and recommends specific exercises based on the needs of the user, such as sleep stories in the evening. Users also receive weekly reports on progress.
Dr Katie Tryon, director of health strategy, Vitality, said: “The impact of digital self-help for members we identified as moderate or high need is significant. The results demonstrate the potential as a preventive tool as well as providing on-demand support for those who need it. We look forward to continuing to work with Wysa to extend access to more Vitality members.”
Wysa is increasingly being adopted throughout the NHS. Last year, Dorset Healthcare University NHS Foundation Trust rolled out the Wysa AI chatbot to patients before they received NHS -prescribed talking therapies. Patients also continued to use the app while they were receiving therapy and after they had completed it.
In September, Hammersmith, Fulham, Ealing and Hounslow Mind offered the app to young people aged 13-18, while North East London NHS Foundation Trust has also used it to support children’s mental health .
Vitality now plans to offer the Wysa app to its wider member population for both prevention and early intervention in mental health. It hopes this will both improve outcomes for its users, and reduce its own costs.
The results of this pilot study are highly encouraging. Wysa has been approved for use by ORCHA, the body that reviews health apps for the NHS, and has been adopted by several NHS trusts. If it is as successful reducing depression and anxiety as this pilot suggests, then it could potentially be adopted more widely, and help to tackle the NHS’s growing waiting list for mental health treatment. Our main caveat is that this pilot did not use a control group, so we have to cautious about generalising from the results. The fact that Vitality now intends to offer it more widely to members suggests, however, that the insurer is confident about its ability to make a difference.