On May 27, 2020, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) announced the launching of the first digital apothecary on their Member Spotlight. Several earlier events led to the launching of “Silicon Valley’s Digital Apothecary.”
At the 51st annual convention of the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT), on November 16, 2017, in San Diego, California, the ABCT Board of Directors convened a Think Tank focused on “Digital CBT Technologies to Provide Care to Difficult-to-Reach and Underserved Populations”. One of the ideas that was discussed was the creation of “Digital Apothecaries”, that is, online repositories of evidence-based digital interventions. Several members of the think tank co-authored an article describing the concept, published in mHealth June 4th, 2018.
On April 9, 2020, Ricardo F. Muñoz presented a webinar on the concept of Digital Apothecaries, which is available on the ABCT website. The COVID-19 pandemic had hit a few weeks earlier. Dr. Maureen O’Connor, President of Palo Alto University (PAU), who had been encouraging Muñoz to actualize his vision of “Silicon Valley’s Digital Apothecary”, suggested to him that he launch it as soon as possible, as a way of contributing to Palo Alto University’s efforts to support mental health needs especially now, when all of us are affected by the pandemic.
In collaboration with the faculty and staff of Palo Alto University’s Institute for International Internet Interventions for Health (i4Health), Muñoz and Dr. Blanca Pineda launched the site on April 15, 2020.
The first interventions included Yan Leykin’s “BetterBET” mood management study, Alinne Barrera’s Mothers and Babies Online Course, a Spanish/English Stop Smoking Virtual Guide developed by Muñoz, Melissa Bond, and colleagues, and links to Spanish-language webinars and podcasts focusing on how to remain emotionally healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We plan to continue to provide online interventions at no charge to as many people as possible. Our digital apothecary will host studies intended to evaluate our interventions and share them widely. We will also host surveys that provide information about health and mental health issues throughout the world, in as many languages as we can muster. We will host online interventions being developed by PAU doctoral students as part of their dissertations.
We see our interventions as “Massive Open Online Interventions (MOOIs)”, inspired by “Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)”. The difference is that MOOCs are educational in nature, while MOOIs are psychological interventions intended to produce mental, emotional, and behavioral change. We intend our MOOIs to be useful to individuals who will be able to access evidence-based interventions directly, to health care providers, who will be able to identify specific digital tools to suggest to or use with their patients, and to researchers, who will be able to study a range of tools with large samples.