One of the biggest barriers preventing patients from accessing the necessary mental health care is often the social stigma they face, according to the World Health Organization.
Not only do patients struggle with accepting that they might need treatment for their mental health issues, but there are also financial and physical challenges stopping them from actively seeking help. The ongoing pandemic, of course, does not improve their chances, further isolating patients and increasing their stress and anxiety.
While there are numerous examples of how technology has improved access to mental health treatment, let’s look at five ways the lives of mental health patients have been changed by advances that are intuitive, affordable and convenient.
Telepsychiatry and Telepsychology: One of the first hurdles to receiving mental health intervention is getting access to the right doctors. More patients are now able to speak with their doctors and get treatment via telehealth platforms. Video-based telepsychiatry and telepsychology solutions offer patients readily accessible, economical and convenient mental health services. People in any part of the world can connect with their doctors with just their smartphones from the comfort and safety of their homes. They can get prescriptions and easily schedule follow-up appointments even when their symptoms inhibit their ability to go to the clinic. Such advances play a crucial role in getting patients time-sensitive mental healthcare interventions, ultimately improve the patient's medical outcome.
Remote monitoring and assessment: Mental healthcare providers have limited time with each patient, amidst an overwhelming caseload and ever-decreasing number of colleagues. They spend a good part of each meeting finding out how the patient is doing since the last visit, noting down their symptoms, whether they are improving or deteriorating. Remote monitoring apps leverage technology to pick up early warning signs in the patient’s tone of voice, speech patterns and other digital biomarkers. An important part of remote monitoring is the ability to provide snapshots of the patient’s wellbeing between appointments, allowing a more nuanced view on the part of the clinician. Our remote monitoring and assessment product GenMind™, for example, facilitates the sharing of information from patient to clinician, with their consent, allowing the clinician a continuum of care and the ability to intervene early rather than after an incident has already occurred.
Text-based on-demand therapy: In times of distress, not everyone can reach out to their regular mental health provider. Some patients may not be comfortable with speaking to a psychiatrist or psychologist but may prefer to chat via text. Technology is making that possible by offering therapy via chat 24/7. Mental health digital apps allow patients to safely share messages via in-app chatting rooms with licensed counsellors, therapists and psychologists. Whether they are feeling depressed, anxious, stressed or just overwhelmed, they can reach out to these experts in a matter of a few clicks. Some patients may also opt to engage a chatbot instead; recent advances in machine learning and natural language processing technologies are used to train chatbots in understanding context, assessing patients, and interpreting queries more accurately.
Online support groups: Going back to social stigma, it is not easy for people to talk about their experiences and struggles. Even though there has been more awareness raised, people can still face serious discrimination based on their mental health diagnosis. On the Internet, however, where one can share freely about living with mental health challenges anonymously, learning and connecting with others can be an extremely effective way of managing one’s illness. There are online support groups for people with severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder and others. Even if a patient does not live close to an in-person support group or community, they can still access a support ecosystem where they can be there for one another. They can also share outside of the group and raise awareness. This helps to build health equity in many underserved communities in the mental healthcare space.
Diagnostic triage: With timely diagnosis and treatment, mental health patients can see significant improvement in their symptoms. In hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare institutions, providers are starting to tap into technology-enabled triaging to help patients according to their mental health diagnosis and start treatment faster. Mental health patients have been reporting longer and longer wait times just to see a provider for the first time; one research study published in 2016 emphasized that “patients waiting for treatment for psychosis” see serious deterioration in medical outcomes when their wait times exceed three months. If a mental healthcare provider can have access to a patient’s digital biomarkers and symptom management report, then these can facilitate a diagnosis and treatment regimen earlier rather than later, enabling a swifter, more patient-centric approach.
There are many innovative ways in which technology can champion the cause of mental health. We’ve listed a few examples, from enabling healthcare access, remote monitoring, offering therapy on demand, to creating an ecosystem of online support groups and diagnostic triage, and we have only just scratched the surface.