If you’ve used telehealth over the past year, you’re not alone. Studies show around 38 percent of us hopped on a virtual telehealth visit this year to discuss everything from a rash to a high fever. Recent reports show that 76 percent of patients who have used it in the past plan to continue using telehealth in the future.
What appears to be the panacea for the future of patient care has also formed a budding partnership with mental health care. For instance, studies found that within the period of March-August 2021, 39 percent of telehealth outpatient visits were primarily for a mental health or substance use diagnosis compared to 24 percent a year earlier and 11 percent two years earlier.
But telehealth is only part of the story, particularly for mental health care. And as providers and payers figure telehealth into patient care plans, the success of virtual patient care relies on accurate data analysis, resources, and training to effectively navigate these new virtual patient relationships.
A large portion of virtual mental health care relies on self-management, and that can be a challenge in some cases. Struggles within medication management, scheduling follow-up appointments, and checking in with family caregivers can be hard. But as the healthcare industry continues to innovate toward digital-based and AI technology tools and resources, a move to personalized, real-time care breathes new hope into the future of mental health. Here’s how:
At the risk of sounding like a chapter out of a paranoia, spy novel, sensors, mobile apps, and other real-time data tracking software and devices are effective options for patients who routinely forget or resist taking medication.
Providers can use collected data that tracks symptoms or vitals to determine if a patient has missed taking their medication or perhaps overmedicated, then initiate outreach. Other technologies like a digital pill, for example, can present a provider visual data once the patient ingests the device.
“Essentially, they [digital therapeutics] represent a paradigm shift in how we think of medical care delivery,” explained experts at medicalfutureist.com. “While we still think that digital health is a cultural transformation initiated but not driven by advanced technologies, DTx will have an enormous impact on how we deliver care and practice medicine. . .researchers already expect them to increasingly have an important role to play in mental health management.”
Prediction and prevention
With reports showing that almost 30 percent of adults experience symptoms of anxiety regularly, the state of mental health in the U.S. is a growing concern. The World Health Organization predicts that depression will become the world’s single largest healthcare burden by 2030, with costs exceeding $6 trillion globally. Just imagine the power in predicting and potentially preventing acute cases of anxiety and depression from progressing or not happening at all.
Pretty heady, isn’t it?
But the truth is, by collecting and analyzing data, doctors can track patterns in a patient’s medical and family history and identify historical triggers earlier in a patient’s life and more accurately.
Research from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital illustrates the impact AI technology and the world’s second-largest supercomputer have on identifying and pinpointing mental health trajectories. John Pestian, Ph.D., MBA, Professor-Affiliate of Psychiatry & Behavioral Neuroscience, College of Medicine at UC Cincinnati, heads up the collaborated research between Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, the University of Cincinnati, the University of Colorado, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the owner and operator of the Summit supercomputer.
“When you’re young, often your mental illness will begin to appear. And as you get older, this kind of projection becomes worse and and then you have a lot more treatment,” Pestian said in a TechFirst podcast. “So the whole idea is to find early identification for the start of these trajectories for pediatric and adolescents, and we focus on depression, anxiety, and suicide prevention.”
Much like a child’s physical growth is charted, Pestian hopes to see similar tracking in a child’s mental health. “With early intervention you can avoid a great deal of mental illness. In fact, there are a number of studies that show that if we can identify this early, we can stop about or we can treat for and alleviate almost 50% of the mental illness that goes into it,” Pestian said. “So catching it young and catching it early and giving care is a very important part.”
Perhaps the most notable impact of AI technology happens behind the scenes of healthcare delivery systems. The intent of AI technology was not to replace in-person services. Instead better data analysis helps streamline care by improving accessibility to areas lacking personalized care, sharing patient information among parties to reduce redundancy, and ensuring better decision-making with a whole profile rather than fragmented data.
“But there’s more to interoperability and AI/machine learning than avoiding mistakes and omissions,” said Phoebe Yang, general manager for non-profit healthcare at Amazon Web Services. “Healthcare is more clinically effective and cost-effective when it prevents problems instead of reacting to them.”
Yang added that machine learning fueled by comprehensive data can help physicians predict health issues across populations and in individual patients. A timely view of the whole patient can drive breakthroughs in personalized medicine and close gaps in care, including disparities for the most vulnerable people. Data and AI/machine learning are the keys to making that happen.
“The same data interoperability and machine learning models that deliver the predictions where and when they’re needed can also develop evidence-based treatment plans that apply precisely to the patient and condition at hand. This is a frontier of care that can’t work if the flow of data is interrupted or disjointed anywhere in the process,” said Yang.
The drive toward AI technology in mental health treatment is optimistically scalable for the healthcare industry. Those innovations not only reinforce a patient’s role in making decisions about their care it also offers essential support to ensure they move toward recovery at a pace that works for them today and in the future.