“When ‘I’ is replaced by ‘We’ even illness becomes wellness.” -unknown
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, about 60% of adults and 50% of youths ages 8-15 years old with a mental illness did not receive any mental health services in the previous year. WHO reports people with severe mental illness experience a 10-25 year decrease in life expectancy compared to the general population. Early deaths and excess spending could be prevented if people received adequate physical and mental health care.
Traditional healthcare involves barriers that mobile health (mHealth) hopes to turn into opportunities for mental healthcare.
Opportunity: Reduce Stigma. The stigma around mental illness often prevents people from seeking proper care. Technology is proving useful in overcoming stigma so people will seek help. Non-profit Give an Hour brings healthcare to military personnel and their families in the privacy of their own mobile phone screens. In addition, apps such as Doctor on Demand allow the public to reach out to licensed health care professionals and live chat. These mobile apps are not only made for individuals with a clinical diagnosis. They are also available to those who aren’t sure if they are depressed, for example, but would like to learn more.
Opportunity: Increase Access. Many people have difficulty accessing mental healthcare in a timely manner due to high costs, distance, and lack of transportation. Even if people overcome these obstacles, the inefficiencies of the health care system may inhibit prompt treatment. The National Institute of Mental Health is funding clinical trials for two mobile phone apps with the goal of overcoming these barriers: Mobilyze and CrossCheck. Both apps combine self reported information and data collected from “built-in sensors, such as GPS, ambient light, and recently made calls, in an attempt to predict the patient’s moods, emotions, and activities.” A baseline or healthy state is established. Deviations trigger advice or positive reinforcement text messages or a phone call from a healthcare provider. Heather Mansfield, author of Social Media for Social Good, reminds us that as price of smartphones, tablets, and data plans come down so will race and class barriers making mHealth more accessible to all.
Opportunity: Integrate health systems. According to the 2011 WHO mHealth: New Horizons for Health through Mobile Technologies Global Observatory for eHealth Series, conflicting health system priorities is the top barrier to mHealth implementation across the globe. The current mental health system in the U.S. is dysfunctional. There are ten times more mentally ill Americans in jail than are receiving treatment in state hospitals. Additionally, countless lives are lost due to inadequate care. Despite inadequacies of traditional mental health care, progress is being made thanks to the growth of mHealth. Leaders in mHealth are investing in mental health campaigns and planning for the long run. People with mental illness may not have a regular doctor; instead they may visit the closest available doctor in times of need. In the traditional healthcare system this results in fragmented health records leading to insufficient care. mHealth allows records from various providers to be shared to provide more comprehensive health care. Mobile electronic medical records allow doctors to use telemedicine to provide prompt diagnosis and treatment in a convenient way for patients. Also, patients are more likely to use doctor-approved apps, so involving doctors early in development is invaluable in gaining patient participation and compliance. Finally, integrating telemedicine into the insurance system would complete the loop between patients, providers, and payers. Patients would be more likely to download and use apps if they received health insurance credits. Payers may be incentivized to give credits if apps prevented relapses, reduced larger treatment costs, and led to better health outcomes.
mHealth has the potential to raise the standard of mental healthcare in the U.S.
Featured image courtesy of Idea go at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.