Technology has advanced almost every aspect of human life, and healthcare is no different. The HITECH Act of 2009, signed into law by President Barack Obama, encouraged all healthcare providers to adopt Electronic Health Records (EHRs) to make care more digital, and since then, technology in healthcare has exploded. Although certain fields of healthcare have been slower to implement technology, including behavioral health, they have finally hit their stride, and we will see it play a much larger role in the coming years.

Before the pandemic, it was reported that nearly 1 in every 5 adults (18.9%) in the U.S. experience some type of mental health disorder. Between COVID-19, stress over finances, and isolation, 2020 exacerbated that number. The growing need for mental health services became a large-scale issue, which prompted healthcare providers to adopt different types of technology to support behavioral health patients.

“As many observers in the industry have noted, the pandemic has been like a “fast-forward” button for the history of healthcare with regard to digital health and consumerism.” – Daniel Durand, MD1

 

Artificial Intelligence and Big Data
From drug and treatment development, faster and more accurate diagnosis’s, precision medicine, and robot-assisted surgeries, artificial intelligence (AI) can improve many facets of healthcare. However, because behavioral health relies heavily on human interaction, many wondered how effective technology would be in combating traits such as loneliness and depression. Chatbots serve as virtual, AI-powered therapists that are available to talk 24/7 whenever you are feeling upset or stressed out. These automated bots will process the information you give them and spit out advice on how to improve your mood. The more you talk with them, the better it will understand you and your cognitive patterns. Several assisted living homes have been using physical robots to a) handle mundane tasks so staff can spend more time with the residents, and b) interact with the residents themselves, give tours, host events, and more. Watch the video below:

Analytics are extremely important in healthcare; clinicians and scientists use data gathered from patients’ records and clinical trials to treat future patients and develop new drugs or vaccines. All the data available to physicians through EHRs improves strategic planning, patient outcomes and overall efficiency. In behavioral health, AI can help doctors identify signs of mental illness early, which can prevent the disorder from getting worse or lasting a long time. Through machine learning algorithms, smartphone apps can collect data by analyzing the way users type, tap, scroll, and communicate with other apps to detect signs of depression or another alternative mental illness.

Virtual and Augmented Reality
Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR and VR) snuck into the healthcare realm when young surgeons used it to prepare for real-life operations. Now, its role has expanded to pain management, psychiatry, rehabilitation, education, psychology, and more! Doctors give out VR headsets equipped with soothing and engaging landscapes to individuals who are going through a difficult procedure, such as pregnancy or surgery, to ease pain and stress. Patients suffering from gastrointestinal, cardiac, neurological and post-surgical pain have shown a decline in their pain and anxiety when using VR to distract them from painful stimuli.2

Patients with fears of animals, flying, public speaking, and more can use VR to help conquer those anxieties as well! Recently, individuals are using VR to calm their nerves before getting injections or vaccines. Watch more here:

 

Telehealth
COVID-19 forced doctors to change the way they delivered care, and with country-wide lockdowns in order, it was the only way to reach their patients. If it weren’t for technology, many behavioral health patients would’ve been without a therapist/counselor for several months, which could have caused major setbacks towards their progress. Thanks to telehealth, behavioral health visits have surged. Before 2020, 1% or fewer of all behavioral health visits were conducted virtually. Throughout May and June last year, 75% of behavioral health visits were conducted via telemedicine.3

“Convenience is one of the most important factors for people choosing where to seek care and the big stores know how to deliver convenience. This competition has forced a paradigm shift for traditional healthcare providers — to start to think of care delivery from the patient perspective and move from great care to exceptionally patient-centered care.” – Brian Herrick, MD1

Virtual visits help meet patients’ needs for convenient and affordable mental health services, but it is not the only form of telehealth. There are several different mobile apps that help patients manage both their physical and mental health. Using apps and other connected devices, individuals can track heart and breathing rate, sleep patterns, stress level, and more! Through remote patient monitoring programs, patients can conduct tests on themselves from home. Engaging them in their treatments will not only help improve their mood, but also improve outcomes. For more on that, head to our blog.

 

During the height of the pandemic, doctors and patients had no choice but to embrace healthcare technology. Due to its success and high approval rating, digital health is here to stay, long after COVID-19 is a major concern. For those of you who fear the robot revolution, do not be alarmed — technology will never completely replace the real-life doctor, as human interaction is an important part of recovery. It will serve as their assistants while increasing access to care, empowering the patient, and helping eliminate the stigma around mental health. It also boosts revenue for providers, raises satisfaction ratings among staff, and most importantly, improves outcomes. Get ready for the technological wave to become the ‘new normal’ in behavioral health.

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REFERENCES:

  1. Adams, Katie. “6 Big Ideas in Healthcare Innovation.” Becker’s Hospital Review, 25 Mar. 2021, beckershospitalreview.com/digital-transformation/6-big-ideas-in-healthcare-innovation-2.html.
  2. “Future of Healthcare: 10 Ways Technology Is Changing Healthcare.” The Medical Futurist, 13 Mar. 2021, https://medicalfuturist.com/ten-ways-technology-changing-healthcare/.
  3. Pifer, Rebecca. “Virtual Behavioral Healthcare Skyrocketed Last Year as COVID-19 Stressed US Mental Health.” Healthcare Dive, 18 Mar. 2021, healthcaredive.com/news/virtual-behavioral-healthcare-skyrocketed-last-year-as-covid-19-stressed-us/596861/.

 

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