The gradually maturing discipline of affective neuroscience is beginning to showcase emotion as much more than a simple reaction to stimuli. Biologists are beginning to accurately predict behavioral states from emotional databanks. Psychologists are collaborating with technologists and neurologists to define a new wave of behavioral health studies, and the results may affect us sooner than we think.Providers often overlook the technology that can help gather data to improve the accuracy of behavioral health studies. In many cases, rural hospitals and urban clinics do not have the budget to look into the aforementioned technologies - they are forward thinking philosophies and still highly experimental. However, there are some vetted options for medical institutions that are ready today. Let's take a look at a slightly more conservative set of tech that can help with behavioral health studies:
A research team from Harvard University and the University of North Carolina recently partnered with tech company Verily to study PTSD through smart watches that are savvy enough to monitor keystroke speed, touch pressure, speed of diction choices and onscreen time. The proper application of these KPMs can give providers early warning signs of psychiatric disorders, say study heads.
Some of the best tools for describing our behavior apparently reside within us, according to 23andMe. The company, which is best known for its ancestry kits, recently invested in a genetic study of 25,000 people. The study is looking to understand bipolar disorders and major depression through biology, focusing on how brain processes are influenced by genes. The current study is actually a follow up of a previous study co-sponsored by 23andMe which found a link between depression and 15 genetic regions.
A Blood Test for the Brain
Savonix is using everyday mobile devices to set a new benchmark for cognitive assessments through digital means. To accomplish its goal of storage and data collection, it is teaming up with neuroimagery company CereScan, Alkahest, Proove Biosciences, Senescence Life Sciences and NYU. One of its first breakthroughs was a dementia screening test, and the tool is already being picked up by pharmaceutical companies for use in clinical drug trials. Most notably, the FDA is already using Savonix to study a new treatment for Alzheimer's disease. There are plenty of people trying to get in on the ground floor of this exciting effort - Savonix recently finished a Series A round of funding to the tune of $5.1 million.
While only 38 percent of community health centers offer telehealth, use among the commercially insured appears to be catching on and growing fast. From 2014 to 2015, annual telehealth visits grew at an annual rate of 52%, and increased to 261% between 2015 and 2017, according to a recent JAMA study. For those suffering from mental health issues, telehealth provided a cost effective way to get help while maintaining comfort levels and privacy. Psychiatrists like the option for patient-facing video conferences, but spotty broadband access and resistance to technology has historically made widespread adoption difficult.
Accessibility to Assessments
Technology is helping practitioners to provide their clients with the ability to complete agency-created assessments via a mobile device such as a tablet in the waiting area, or via an e-mailed link sent prior to their appointment. This is not only ideal in allowing patients to take assessments in less sterile environments (that could lead to less accurate results), but also puts the provider in the position to be reimbursed at a higher rate. (electronic vs. paper submittal).
Using the cloud and automated administration programs to find records that would have otherwise been lost or possibly misplaced is a huge advantage of modern behavioral health technology. The virtual elimination of human error from many processes allows providers to move ahead with an unprecedented level of confidence. Providers are also able to more effectively collaborate between primary care and other disciplines. Cloud-based EMRs involve much less red tape and centralize the storage effort. Signatures and permissions can be handled remotely and through digital processes, drastically reducing the time that providers spend involved in the bureaucracy of prior authorizations.
As common, everyday technology brings providers big data and more precise data, there are some caveats to take into consideration. First and most importantly, it is quite possible that the technology itself is inducing behavioral disorders in some patients. People who use smartphones more frequently than average have more trouble focusing and incur more symptoms of disorders such as ADHD.
Certain types of technology have also been shown to induce an "instant gratification trigger" in some patients. Under this condition, patients using technology, such as a wearable, who continue to experience the negative symptoms of a disorder may exacerbate that disorder through additional stress. In short, the patient expects the technology to cause the medical treatment to work more efficiently. When it doesn't, it becomes an additional stressor to the patient. It is incumbent upon providers to keep patients being evaluated safe from the negative effects of any technology that is being used to facilitate a care regimen.
Providers should take a good look at the cutting edge of behavioral technology and research where it stands. Although all efforts are not ready for commercial implementation, some of the more forward thinking ideas can definitely be applied and benefit on some level or another while being within the means of many types of facilities.