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  • Olivia Hugentobler

The Future of Behavioral Health Technology

According to 2022 Adult Prevalence of Mental Illness (AMI) data, nearly 20 percent of US citizens suffer from mental health disorders, and this number continues to grow. With the need for mental and behavioral health resources higher than ever, many individuals are looking to the future of technology to help organizations meet the needs of their clients. For those within the behavioral health sector, it is crucial to be aware of up-and-coming technology within the field to increase access, deliver better outcomes and improve treatment options.


Here are four trends we think have promising futures in the behavioral health industry:

  1. Mental Health Applications

  2. Artificial Intelligence

  3. Virtual Reality

  4. Psychedelics


Mental Health Applications


You have likely seen at least a few of the applications (apps) that have been developed for mental health. Apps range from simply assisting users in writing down thoughts daily to providing total therapy and treatment platforms. There are several benefits to apps, including their extreme accessibility. Anyone with a smartphone and an internet connection can find resources and practice well-being.


Apps range from simply assisting users in writing down thoughts daily to providing total therapy and treatment platforms.


Not only are apps accessible, but they also allow users to access their features at any time, search for therapists and treatments while remaining anonymous, and offer several ways to stay engaged, like daily reminders, feelings trackers, and abundant learning material.


Here are a few of the top apps in behavioral health:


  • Talkspace: Talkspace is an online therapy platform that provides confidential and secure mental healthcare through an easy-to-use and HIPAA-compliant app.

  • Calm: The #1 app for Sleep, Meditation, and Relaxation, with over 100 million downloads and over 1.5M+ 5-star reviews, Calm provides guided sleep and meditation video and audio for users to help relieve stress and get better sleep.

  • Moodfit: Moodfit provides comprehensive tools for good mental health, and helps you understand what brings your mood up and down. Moodfit helps you work on personalized daily goals that are your “daily mental health workout” that include self-care and good practices

  • Sanvello: Sanvello is an evidence-based mobile care solution created by clinical experts that allows you to access on-demand help for stress, anxiety, and depression. Sanvello uses clinically validated techniques such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) that are designed to work together to help you learn how to feel happier.


It remains worth noting that mental health app providers face their fair share of challenges. Experts note that there may be issues with equity within applications, questioning whether apps work for all people and mental health conditions. They must also gain evidence that applications can work and operate as well - or even better - than traditional approaches such as face-to-face therapy.


Anyone with a smartphone and an internet connection can find resources.


Finally, app producers and developers must be able to guarantee users’ privacy as apps tend to deal with highly sensitive and personal information. As promising as the world of applications within behavioral health is, these hurdles must be overcome before further progress can be made.


Artificial Intelligence


Another digital tool that the industry should keep its eye out for is artificial intelligence. Although the idea of artificial intelligence (AI) is not necessarily new in the behavioral health sector, its progress and need have rapidly grown over the past year. As the demand for behavioral health services grew in response to the pandemic, industries introduced forms of AI such as therapy chatbots and virtual assistants.

AI adoption is still in its infancy, yet it could be the biggest game-changer of the twenty-first century.


There have been many strides made in artificial intelligence, with new technology being developed and tested every day. Currently, there is an artificial intelligence (AI)-based platform called Quartet that identifies at-risk patients by assessing medical records, adjusting mental health paths, and suggesting professional help if needed.


At the University of Illinois Chicago, researchers are testing an artificial intelligence-powered virtual agent called Lumen. The team will train this tool to provide therapy to patients and help individuals focus on learning cognitive and behavioral skills. This is only the tip of the iceberg for the possibilities of AI in the behavioral health sector.


Lumen and other current inventions are only the tip of the iceberg for the possibilities of AI in the behavioral health sector.


AI adoption is still in its infancy, yet it could be the biggest game-changer of the twenty-first century. This emerging technology is incredibly promising in advancing the behavioral health field forward, but it is important to note that AI can only be as great as the data it's trained on. Data integration is crucial for developing new technology that can help practices predict trends and treat patients.

Virtual Reality


For quite some time, virtual reality (VR) has progressed in various therapy fields. By the end of 2021, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the marketing of EaseVRx, a prescription-only VR device. Aimed at patients over 18-years-old, EaseVRx uses CBT and other psychological approaches to target chronic lower back pain symptoms. Although this is not in the behavioral health sector, this kind of treatment for mental health is just beyond the horizon.

Early studies show that VR effectively supports CBT in treating anxiety and depression in the majority of trials.


An international research collaboration of UK and Canadian universities shows that VR-based programs can be used to lessen, and in some cases remove, feelings of anxiety when public speaking. Some organizations have even begun experimenting in the behavioral health market with this technology, including a Japan-based organization called Jolly Good. Jolly Good is working to create state-of-the-art technology called VRDx, which employs CBT approaches, to see if VR can be used in depression treatments.


Although the use of VR is relatively new in the psychological and mental health industry, its adaptability and low-to-moderate risk make it promising for the future treatment of various mental health issues such as anxiety, PTSD, and addiction.


VR-based programs can be used to lessen, and in some cases remove, feelings of anxiety when public speaking.


Psychedelics


Although psychedelics are still illegal in many countries, they have started to garner more and more government support, as they have proven effective when appropriately dosed. There is mounting research indicating that chemicals like psilocybin, MDMA, DMT, and cannabidiol (CBD) can assist in treating mental illness that has not responded to conventional drug treatments when used in a controlled context and accompanied by professional care.


The Australian government has shown its support for psychedelics by granting nearly $15 million for clinical trials. They believe that these funds will potentially deliver ground-breaking treatments for those suffering from chronic mental illnesses such as significant depression, alcohol abuse, anorexia nervosa, PTSD, and anxiety disorders.


Psychedelics can assist in treating mental illness that has not responded to conventional drug treatments when used in a controlled context and accompanied by professional care


However, many countries have strong drug regulations that may present a barrier to greater adoption. Countries such as Mexico have a firm anti-drug stance that would block further research and development. There is also significant misinformation, biases, and stereotypes surrounding psychedelics that cause many individuals to turn away from further research and view it as inherently unethical. For the foreseeable future, many countries may be unwilling to invest time and research into new regulatory frameworks, even with supporting research.


Preparing your Organization for New Trends


As the need for mental and behavioral health services continue to grow, as will the tech that supports the industry. Your organization must be prepared for new tech and trends so that you can best serve your patients and clients. Here are a few ways you can better prepare your organization now:


1. Stay up-to-date on current trends and technology: By keeping an eye on current trends and technology in the field, you will be aware of new technology that can better serve your clients and your community.


2. Prepare your data: Data integration is crucial for developing new technology that can help practices predict trends and treat patients. At Pinnacle Health Informatics, we can assist in collecting and presenting data intuitively and understandably, allowing you to manage your practice efficiently, predict trends more effectively and advance your practice into the future. This is often up to 80% of the work in any data project. Clean, conformed, deduplicated data leads to excellent results in the end.


3. Follow leaders in the industry: Follow reliable individuals and organizations that can provide insight into new trends. Some trends will not be as reliable or useful as others, and these leaders can often help sift through what is worth the hype and what is likely to pass.


4. Ask questions and seek help: Sometimes it is hard to move forward when you are stuck on a complex issue or problem. Seeking help from professionals to identify trends or issues within your organization is an important step to progression.


Data integration is crucial for developing new technology that can help practices predict trends and treat patients.


At Pinnacle Health Informatics we enjoy helping other data professionals find the answers they seek or view issues in new ways. Are you stuck on a vexing data problem? Getting your data ready for the next step or visual but running into an issue? With Pinnacle’s Data Help Desk, you can schedule a 20-minute, free, no-obligation chat with the staff at Pinnacle. Schedule your Data Help Desk appointment


Pinnacle Health Informatics has specialized in the behavioral health sector for more than two decades, and throughout our time working with clients we have seen the industry adapt and grow in numerous ways. We pride ourselves on staying on top of current trends and supporting our clients within the industry to the best of our abilities.


We are eager to assist you in building reliable data dashboards that will make implementing new technology easier and more efficient for your organization and improve current operations.


What technology seems the most promising to you? Is there any that you are interested in doing further research on? What will your organization implement today to better prepare for the future?


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