Mental illness does not discriminate. In fact, every year one-fifth of Americans experience a diagnosable mental health disorder, whether they are diagnosed or receive treatment.
This means that even if you haven’t personally experienced a mental health crisis, you certainly know someone who has, even if they don’t talk about it.
Unfortunately, despite the dire impact of mental illness on society – mental health disorders, for example, are a major cause of lost economic productivity – our current mental health care system is not equipped to support patients and their families.
There aren’t enough physicians, especially outside major cities, many don’t carry insurance, and waiting lists for top programs can stretch for months.
This is why a large number of people are turning to the digital world for care, with IoT and other connected technology presented as the perfect way to bridge the care gap.
The Basics: Telehealth
When we think of healthcare innovation, we often jump to extremes like robotic surgery and deep brain stimulation, but in its simplest form, digital mental health care is just online therapy.
For a number of reasons, traditional medicine is not accessible to many people, often because they have to work during specific practice hours or because they live in a rural part of the country without enough doctors.
According to a recent Washington Post report on the medical desert, 20% of Americans live in rural areas, but these areas have only 10% of American doctors, and the percentage of its specialists is even lower. Telehealth programs now serve as a vital link to more advanced care, whether that means calling for neurology consultations or holding weekly meetings with physicians after someone has had a stroke.
Until recently, security was a major challenge for telehealth providers. Over the years, however, several HIPAA-compliant telehealth programs have come to market. Depending on patient needs, telehealth providers may also employ biometric sensors to collect medical and lifestyle data to improve care.
This makes it possible for physicians to provide remote biofeedback sessions or for psychiatrists to monitor drug side effects. These are the types of services that are particularly underrepresented, and which can be hard to access – especially at a fair price. Technology can democratize access, as with other forms of care.
In addition to more advanced telehealth programs, many people are also turning to digital therapy platforms for short-term care. Although these apps, many of which are text-based, are generally less comprehensive than traditional mental health treatment and do not allow patients to select specific providers, they are a valuable tool for patients who are not sure whether they should proceed or not.
Persons seeking medical or who are looking for a physician. Even in major cities like New York, it can take time to call a doctor, verify insurance, and screen for the appropriate provider, in the meantime app-based therapy programs can provide support.
tracking patients with severe mental illness
Most people living with a mental health issue have highly treatable anxiety or depression. Given access to therapy and medication, sometimes for a few months or even years, these patients can usually resume their normal lives with few problems.
They understand the impact of their disease and how to manage it and want to feel better, but not all patients are so easy to treat.
A much smaller but more vulnerable group of people with mental illness is what experts call severe mental illness (SMI), which is usually classified as a condition associated with psychosis and other extreme conditions. For these individuals, mental illness is more likely to lead to unemployment and homelessness, addiction and erratic behavior.
Particularly in people with schizophrenia and related disorders, SMI can also cause anosognosia or the inability to recognize that they are sick. These patients can resist treatment, especially medication, despite feeling much better and being highly functional while taking the drug – and this is where new technology can help.
While there is much debate about compulsory psychiatric treatment, a growing number of areas are employing assisted outpatient treatment (AOT), in which patients are mandated by courts to take medication and placed under proper oversight.
To aid in this program, drug manufacturers recently began producing the antipsychotic drug Abilify with tracking technology triggered by ingestion. Tiny sensors allow doctors or family members to ensure that typically non-compliant patients continue to take their medication and can also help promote independence.