The HIMSS24 Global Conference is taking place in Orlando.

Photo: Jeff Lagasse/Healthcare Finance News

ORLANDO – Behavioral health issues are unfortunately common in today’s healthcare environment – suicides, psychiatric bed capacity and lack of access to psychiatrists all occur with some regularity, and as is the case with many aspects of healthcare, technology can help to address some of these issues.

Dr. Jacqueline Naeem, senior medical director at Parkland Center for Clinical Innovation, provided an overview of some of these technologies during her session, “Technologies that Enhance Behavioral Health Care Delivery,” at the HIMSS24 conference here Monday.

“The World Health Organization recognizes mental health as a global priority,” said Naeem. “They say 29% of people will suffer a mental health disorder sometime in their lifetime. I think that’s a little low. Sometimes things are either not identified or not reported, or there’s hesitance to seek assistance for these things. There’s also just a general lack of access to care.”

The good news – such as it is – is that technology can be utilized to address many of these issues, and much of that technology is beginning to mature. Telehealth, for example, exploded during the COVID-19 pandemic, and for many patients, it’s their preferred interaction with the healthcare system. It has consistently been a benefit to providers as well as patients, said Naeem, and also removes some of the access barriers, in particular when it comes to people in rural areas seeking help.

On top of that, there are roughly 20,000 mental health apps available (although, at Naeem’s last count, only about five are FDA-approved). 

“The fact that there’s so many raises some alarm bells in my mind,” she said. “Also, some are touted as mental health apps, but when you look at them, they’re more wellness apps. And that’s where things get tricky. The FDA isn’t supposed to regulate wellness apps. So there needs to be some buyer-beware in there.”

Watches and other wearable devices have, of course, become increasingly popular, and many can track physiological data that can lend behavioral health insights. Measuring things like heart rate and sleep patterns can provide a more robust view of a patient – one that’s more measurable than in some other domains of mental health. 

As for artificial intelligence, it’s too new to really know how much of an impact it’s having – although the potential is there.

“Some solutions have good evidence, some have emerging evidence, and some are so new they have none,” said Naeem. “But really, when you’re thinking about advising a patient or making a decision for the practice, how do you choose? You need a really good understanding of what the needs are. Do due diligence on this technology, and make sure that if there’s something the staff or support people ought to know how to do, they’re trained and not trying to wing it when something arises.”

While caution is needed, the overall picture is improving for people dealing with behavioral health issues – which is a large chunk of the population.

“There’s a role for these things in certain settings and in certain populations,” she said.
 

Jeff Lagasse is editor of Healthcare Finance News.
Email: [email protected]
Healthcare Finance News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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