Digitizing mental health therapy, but how?

COVID-19 is causing more mental health problems, and forces digitization. But how, and for whom? Patients will respond differently, so let’s cater to their needs. For this project, we collaborated with VGZ, one of the biggest Dutch health insurers. We used a cutting edge approach, supporting qualitative insights with quantitative validation.


VGZ (10 weeks)


To determine how digital tools are best used to address the needs of people going through mental health therapy


Unique segmentation on therapy needs rather than diagnosis and demographics

Rising urgency

In the Netherlands, mental health therapy is organized by GGZ. Even before COVID-19, there were big problems with growing waiting lists throughout the country. Being forced to postpone therapy can lead to more severe problems, resulting in more extensive (and expensive) treatment. Digital solutions can play a role in decreasing waiting lists and tailoring therapy to individual needs.

Understanding needs

But what are those individual needs? When patient profiles are needed today, patients are grouped based on diagnosis, age or other demographics. But that doesn’t tell us anything about what they need from their therapy, and the possible role of digital tools.

  • Is the therapist a shoulder to cry on, or a challenger for personal growth?
  • Do you want to go back to the way things were, or are you looking for a new self?
  • Do you make your own decisions, or are you relying on expert advice?

We didn’t know and we didn’t understand. That’s why we decided to dive into mental health patient needs, regardless of their diagnosis.

Building patient profiles

We interviewed not only patients but also leaders in the field of digital mental health therapy (iPractice and Disofa, amongst others). Next to a holistic view of this complex issue, this also sparked curiosity for this needs driven way of working. Within VGZ, we worked with a multidisciplinary team, as this topic needed expertise from proposition developers, purchasing and account management.

The interviews shaped the foundation of the Morphological Tension Model. This model allows us to structure needs, this time on mental health therapy. From there, we were able to distil six needs based profiles. Each profile has a distinct experience of mental health therapy, and accompanying distinct needs.

We haven't seen a patient centric approach like this before. This is unprecedented in mental health care.

— Expert at HSK health care

Playing the numbers game

All fun and games, but how do you prioritize between these six profiles? We needed numbers! That’s why we set out a quantitative study. We wanted to both quantify the profiles and also determine which of them had most potential for digital solutions as part of their therapy. The numbers clearly indicated which profiles had priority.

Looking forward

We finished the project by looking at the current market for digital tools supporting mental health therapy and determining if and how they address the needs of the most promising profiles.  We looked at the patient journeys of the two most promising profiles, finding their biggest pain points and opportunities for a better experience. These opportunity domains were then matched with benchmark research on available digital tools and health care providers. Which tools address the needs best? Which need work or a refined proposition?

With the results from the project, we went back to the experts we initially interviewed. What stood out most, was that the engagement with this patient-centric input for refining their propositions. Even though the insights from the project came close to their core, the different experts were very excited and open to share their considerations.

The profiles for mental health patients are applicable in a much wider sense than just this project. The profiles are currently being adopted within VGZ, with potential use for proposition development, commercial communication and patient contact.

The brainpower behind this project

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