The adoption of digital health has accelerated in the past year as healthcare providers deal with changes brought on by COVID-19.
Digital health in the mental health care industry is proving to be particularly influential. At a consumer level, the rise of mental health apps and the introduction of telehealth services has made it easier to access crucial care and resources. At a provider level, digital health is helping to ensure a more open line of communication between doctors and other professionals within the healthcare industry.
Here is a description of what digital health is, how it’s evolving in the mental health field, and why it’s here to stay.
What is digital health?
Digital health refers to the range of technologies that are used to help treat patients and improve the healthcare industry. Such technologies include:
- Mobile health applications (Apps)
- Electronic health records
- Telehealth and telemedicine
- Robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI)
- Wearable devices
- Digital platforms and online training programs
Digital health uses a combination of computing platforms, software, sensors, connectivity, and sophisticated devices to promote healthier lives, streamline health services, and make healthcare more accessible to those who need it.
The role of digital health in mental health care
Digital health is transforming the mental health space.
Imagine if you were struggling with mental health but didn’t have the money or ability to access crucial care services. In the U.S alone, more than half of adults with a mental illness do not receive mental health treatment. Lack of financial resources and access to these services are the biggest barriers between patients and proper care.
In January 2021, the WHO stressed the importance of integrating mental health into response and preparedness plans for public health emergencies. One of the aims outlined was to strengthen services for mental health with the use of digital tools. Following the adoption of technology-driven tools in the mental health sphere, evidence found that the use of telehealth services and remote consultations have been effective at improving and treating mental health conditions, including anxiety and substance abuse. Additionally, public uptake of these services rose, with a 29% increase in mental health app downloads in 2020.
Digital health benefits
Digital health plays one of the most important roles in ensuring people have adequate access to mental health. Additionally, digital health will transform the way mental health care professionals deliver their services.
1. Driving connectivity
Connectivity is shaping healthcare. Digital health services such as telehealth and mobile health care give people access to better, safer, and affordable mental healthcare.
Digital health connectivity in the mental health industry means there is an easier flow of information between providers, patients, and doctors.
Currently, connected healthcare systems enable the sharing of up-to-date information between patients, hospitals, and healthcare professionals. A highly connected mental healthcare system means that information and patient data sharing is more accurate, and there is also increased productivity and less chance of human error.
Digital health makes mental health services accessible to anyone, anywhere.
Technology-driven resources such as mental health apps provide anonymity and are easy to use. These online platforms are also free or low-cost, allowing those of lower socioeconomic backgrounds access to mental health resources without having to pay.
These services can also be harnessed in cases where patients cannot or do not want to attend face-to-face therapy.
For patients who live in remote areas or who physically can’t access a health care provider, the implementation of telehealth services means they can seek help whenever they need it. There may be those struggling with severe anxiety where even the thought of attending a face-to-face appointment is enough to stop them from seeking help. With telehealth, these patients can remain in the comfort of their own homes as they seek the therapy they need.
3. Reduced costs
Digital health tools not only reduce the cost of mental health care for patients, but also the costs associated with employee training. For mental health professionals, training costs can be expensive. The introduction of digital training platforms, including virtual reality training, can help psychologists and psychiatrists learn valuable tools in the treatment of mental health disorders.
Additionally, digital mental health treatments have proven to reduce patient transport and hospital stay costs.
4. Reduced inefficiencies
Operational inefficiencies can be reduced with the help of digital health.
The mental healthcare industry is heavily burdened, with many health care professionals experiencing burnout and workplace-related stress. This can greatly affect focus and quality of care. With the use of digital tools, many providers have found an improvement in the continuum of patient care. For example, providers are more able to consistently monitor a patient’s health remotely and can intervene if there’s a development of negative trends.
With the digitization of patient records, mental health providers can develop more personalized health care plans and optimize treatments. Employees are also able to access health records at any time and can monitor a patient’s prescription history. Administrative tasks are also improved, with internal processes becoming more streamlined.
In Australia, great promise surrounds the use of mobile mental health apps and teletherapy services.
Developed by the University of Sydney in partnership with the Kids Helpline, Kids Helpline Circles provides children and teenagers a safe place to access mental health services. The social media network connects youth to counselors in an anonymous forum. At-risk youth can access free urgent care 24/7 from any device and are able to access group counseling programs at any time.
Remote therapy, also known as teletherapy, allows patients to seek mental health support remotely and in real-time.
Remote therapy is generally done via videoconferencing and can be used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and more. In addition to the convenience and flexibility offered, teletherapy also gives providers a chance to see into their patient’s home and living conditions, which can prove helpful in devising personalized treatment plans and support.
For example, a 10-year-old girl was afraid of the dolls in her bedroom closet. Her therapist was able to see this closet via the girl’s iPad and was then able to coach her in real-time on how to conquer her fears.
The digitization of the mental health care industry offers new ways of diagnosing, treating, and monitoring patients. Increased connectivity means providers have easier access to vital records and can more easily provide a continuum of care to better enhance the lives of their patients. Virtual care platforms and tools such as mental health apps and teletherapy services mean at-risk individuals can seek the care they need when they need it without financial or travel constraints. The application of digital health brings improvements in quality of care and efficiency, reducing the risk for human error and providing a more inclusive system that targets all demographics.
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