Modern health care is an ever-expanding constellation, not a one-size-fits-all affair. Everyone’s needs are different, and the needs we have aren’t limited to physical diagnoses, treatments, and therapies.
Mental illness affects millions of Americans. Nearly one in five adults have a mental health disorder that can have outsized effects on his or her quality of life. Mental health drives other medical and living expenses, too, as it is now the costliest area of health care.
Modern digital technology can’t meet all of our needs in any area of life, but its many benefits now include new tools designed to provide mental health support to those who need it. Advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI) have already begun to revolutionize care delivery in key areas.
Keep reading for a review of recent AI advances that have changed the way we’re meeting our age-old need for mental health care.
Dr. Robot: Virtual Counseling
For example, Woebot is a free texting program that simulates the sort of dialogue patients typically have with counselors and therapists, but in an interactive online setting. Patients interface with a chatbot to provide information about their symptoms and condition. In a conversational format, the program responds with tailored feedback and CBT recommendations drawn from an evidence-based toolkit.
Though all medical professionals agree that chatbots are no substitute for real, in-person health care, they’re a good supplement for modern patients who use smartphones to access more routine services than ever before. Programs like Woebot work well with diverse audiences, too, as they can be configured to accommodate a wide variety of language users and offer different resources to different users depending on need.
Another counseling program called Ellie, developed by the Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California, has already taken virtual therapy beyond verbal troubleshooting. Ellie detects important nonverbal behaviors like posture and facial expression in order to more fully evaluate a patient’s condition.
Still, other apps like Talkspace aren’t chatbots but tools for allowing patients to connect and communicate with human therapists via text, video messages and conferencing, audio notes, and other electronic means.
AI-Guided Support for Call Centers
AI analytic tools are now being used in Humana, MetLife, and similar call centers to provide automated guidance to agents taking calls. Patients’ experiences are improved when agents receive helpful, real-time reminders of how to provide the best service.
How does it work? AI-powered programs monitor calls in progress for gaps or lapses in the conversation, audible signs of agitation or boredom, and other red flags in the conversation. The call center worker receives notifications, accordingly, like a coffee cup to suggest more energetic engagement, or a heart icon to prompt the worker to emphasize with the caller more directly.
Social Therapy: Online Health Communities
It’s no big secret that too much social media can be a bad thing for mental health. But, in general, social interactions promote mental health and online channels can be a valuable source of social and emotional support. This is especially true for those at greater risk of social isolation due to mental illness.
Helping those with mental illnesses forge and maintain connections with others is another health benefit modern AI can provide. The Moderate Online Social Therapy (MOST) project, hosted by Melbourne, Australia’s National Center for Excellence in Youth Mental Health, provides an example.
The program allows young people recovering from depression and psychosis to interact in ways that promote healing and strengthen relationship skills. Different virtual tools facilitate group discussion, shared problem-solving, mutual emotional support, listening, and other therapeutic techniques. The creators of MOST hope that, in the future, the efforts of group moderators may be replicated by AI solutions offering patients personalized therapeutic care.
It’s hard to imagine virtual systems ever fully replacing human health care professionals and caregivers. People will probably want to retain the human element of health care regardless of how advanced our tools become. But the therapeutic value of AI technology, its ability to enhance and supplement the human factor, is not to be underestimated.
About the Author
Adam A. Glenn writes about tips and trends in digital marketing and social media for TrustRadius. He is an avid reader whose extracurricular interests include hiking, vintage pop culture, and messing around with music.