Today, many people use their phones, FitBits, or other “smart” devices to track steps, sleep habits, breath patterns, and dietary choices on a given day. But increasingly, smartphones are also delivering valid forms of treatment for health conditions ranging from diabetes to ADHD. An FDA-approved app called BlueStar, for instance, helps patients with type II diabetes manage their symptoms by syncing with their glucose monitors, and providing custom coaching, education, and reports tailored to their behavior and personal data. “BlueStar gets smarter and more helpful with each interaction,” says the company’s website. A company called Akili Interactive is spearheading the development of prescription digital treatments for cognitive disorders like ADD and ADHD—not by remotely prescribing patient’s pills, but by offering them an immersive action video game built on peer-reviewed research in cognitive neuroscience.
As healthcare costs continue to rise, so does demand—and luckily, digital technology is not only helping to reduce costs and expand access, but also to improve the quality of care with the help of data. In behavioral health, digital technology is helping to recreate a better model for effective, long-term care. Most people intuitively understand that human behavior and mood are driven by a range of factors—genetics, social factors, environment, lifestyle choices and beyond. And yet, the standards for diagnosing and treating mental health issues has remained the same since 1952, when the first edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) was published. In this model, provider and patient have a series of simple conversations, and the provider does their best to provide a diagnosis based on the criteria outlined in the DSM. Measuring the patient’s progress over time is dependent on similar conversations, during or after which the provider may choose to jot down some notes.
With one in 5 U.S. adults affected by a mental health issue each year, it is clear that this model for behavioral healthcare is not adequate to address the scale and severity of the problem. Access issues are part of the picture. Of the 20 percent of impacted adults, nearly half don’t receive treatment. And for those who do, only half respond well to existing treatments, including drug therapy and talk therapy.
"In behavioral health, digital technology is helping to recreate a better model for effective, long-term care"
Digital behavioral healthcare is changing the game. Talkspace online therapy, which connects users with licensed therapists through a HIPAA-compliant app, is expanding access to behavioral healthcare by offering a more affordable and convenient alternative to in-person care, but also transforming the model of care itself. Talkspace is able to measure and track patient outcomes, analyze care patterns and provide feedback to providers to optimize outcomes for patients.
Traditional, face-to-face therapy relies on a 100 percent verbal approach. Patients may give their providers “anecdata” about their improvement, but until the advent of digital behavioral healthcare, there has been no effective way to measure progress for each condition, determine effective treatment approaches at an individual level, or to track clinical outcomes.
Technology is providing tools to make behavioral healthcare accessible, but it is also helping providers move toward a more complex model of understanding, diagnosing, and treating behavioral health issues. As digital platforms like Talkspace gather more and more data about conditions, treatment patterns, and outcomes, they will be able to guide providers toward developing predictive care models and preventative measures, rather than treatment in a one-size-fits-all environment.