Health is incredibly intimate and personal and is one of the most important things that we as humans have. It’s what drives our very being. It’s what dictates our presence on this planet. I know that sounds dramatic, but if there’s anything that the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us, it is that to be in good health is to be at a significant advantage and is what can ultimately and honestly be the difference between life and death.
Health affords the opportunity of life. When we see it as being about anything other than that, we start to put ourselves and everyone around us in a vulnerable position- one where basic access to healthcare is not affordable and available for everyone, where we’re not really sure about what’s going on inside of our bodies or the things we’re putting into them, where opiates are less expensive than prescription medications, and where the mental health crisis is only ever-growing. When we are not in control of our health, we are not in control of our life.
This is the current state of our healthcare system. This is the reality of what has been for decades. Our healthcare system has been operating out of this lofty paradigm for longer than I have been alive and its inefficiency, discrimination, and blatant ineffectiveness have cost a lot of lives. I think that’s one of the reasons why the COVID-19 pandemic has been so important. It took all of these realities and thrust them into the limelight so that we could no longer ignore them and we were forced to see what happens when we don’t truly look out for each other, when we are reactive instead of proactive, and when profits become more important than people.
This isn’t to overshadow all of the good that is being done in this space, I know there is a lot. But at the same time, there is still a lot of work to still be done. That’s where this becomes really nuanced. Mending our broken healthcare system is really complicated and it doesn’t happen overnight. Progress here, just like everywhere else, is not linear and even though we might not be able to see it, doesn’t mean that it’s not happening. The truth is, I’m not really sure how we got here, but I know that there is a lot of work being done every day to ensure that here is not where we stay.
Over the past ten years especially, there have been incredible leaps in this space that have started to catalyze a major shift in our healthcare system’s paradigm. Advancing technologies and the emerging HealthTech industry have played an integral role in this development and are paving the way for a better healthcare system and a new evolution of healthcare for everyone.
When dissecting the core issues in our healthcare system, they break into about three main areas: lack of access, inefficiency/inconvenience, and ineffectiveness. New technologies are aiming to solve these issues and the outcomes are rather promising.
One important technological development is in the world of virtual care. With COVID-19 especially, access to virtual care and telehealth has become critical, as most people have been unable to leave their homes to receive their usual care at doctors’ offices. A report published by McKinsey found that between 2019 and 2020 alone, the use of telehealth rose from 11% to 46% and it is safe to say that this is a trend that is here to stay. A positive tradeoff from the shift towards telehealth is that care is becoming more affordable and accessible. Patients no longer have to rely on their neighborhood physicians and now have around-the-clock access to a larger network of physicians of different specialties in different parts of the US, resulting in an increase in opportunity, affordability, and accessibility.
Data is another solution that is revolutionizing the healthcare industry. A shift towards the use of electronic medical records (EMRs) and electronic health records (EHRs) has led to a more data-driven approach to care where data analytics are being used to develop evidence-based algorithms that help create more effective and precise guides for preventing, controlling, and managing disease. According to Forbes, data analytics “will allow more doctors to maximize the health of patients with chronic illnesses, thereby reducing mortality.” The use of EMRs and EHRs in this way also means that we are starting to leave behind our reactive one-size-fits-all approach to healthcare and shifting towards a more proactive approach, where prevention and control are just as paramount as management and treatment.
On the patient side of things, data is also transforming the way we participate in our own health. Wearable biometric technologies like the FitBit and Apple Watch have grown in popularity exponentially over the past five to ten years. These devices use ECG sensors and other advanced technologies that measure biometrics like blood oxygen, heart rate, sleep, BMI, and even stress levels to help give individuals a more holistic view and a deeper understanding of their own health. This incredibly personalized approach puts people back at the center of their health and gives them the ability to make educated, data-driven decisions about their health in real-time.
These new technologies and this new data-driven, patient-centric approach are making healthcare more accessible, more convenient, and more effective than ever. More importantly, according to Forbes, this means that “consumers are no longer at the mercy of the industry [and] are becoming empowered to receive care according to their convenience,” and on their own terms. Data-driven, tailored treatment is now being called to become the standard, not the exception.
What this means fundamentally is that people are finally starting to have access to healthcare that meets their human and gives back the control that our outdated system once took from them. When we can put more people in the driver’s seat of their own health and their own lives, everyone is better off.
It is not surprising that this new approach to healthcare is translating into the mental health landscape as well, as patients are becoming more empowered than ever to play an active role in their own therapy and treatment decisions and expect to see a real return on their investment in these often expensive solutions. In the past, patients haven’t had much say in their own therapy and treatment choices, as the standard in mental healthcare for years has been talk therapy and antidepressants. These options are helpful for some, but mental health is inherently complex and a one-size-fits-all approach here can be just as lethal as it is in other health verticals.
When we’re talking about people’s minds, it only feels natural to argue that it is the patient’s right to have a say in what goes on inside of them. According to an article published by Deloitte, “Digital medicine products present an opportunity to move beyond the pill, better understand patient needs and patient journey, and enhance patient experience and outcomes while on a therapy.”
A lot of these new technologies come in the form of mobile mental health applications that use data and patient inputs to more effectively manage and treat mental illness. However, these solutions are not yet being widely adopted or embraced in the mental healthcare space, as this space is one that has been generally slower to adopt and embrace the new healthcare economy.
Most of this resistance stems from uncertainty, as there is currently very little industry regulation and a lack of information on app effectiveness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. This is in part because of the less-tangible aspects of mental health. Mental health is generally seen as qualitative, relying heavily on intangibles like emotion, body language, etc. In this sense, quantifying patient outcomes might seem unnatural and also raises questions about patient privacy.
However, industry experts believe that technology has a lot of potential in this space for both clients and clinicians. It has the power to make treatment more effective, affordable, and accessible. It also means we can get really precise in our decision-making and give people the opportunity to have a say in what goes on inside of their bodies.
In the mental health arena, it’s typical for people to try a lot of things that don’t work. Many mental illnesses are treatment-resistant and even when treatment is an option, treatments alone are incredibly expensive and come with adverse risks. Technology affords the opportunity to rewrite this narrative and explore new dimensions.
As the world continues to become digitized, it’s less of a question about if mental health will follow this trend as it is a question of when and how. Data-driven, patient-centric approaches to care are especially important here in the mental healthcare landscape and can transform the way that we approach mental health, if used in a way that is safe, responsible, and ethical.
In standard therapeutic practice, clinicians are generally responsible for using a one-hour therapy window to engage with clients, observe and analyze behavior, and use their findings to develop treatment plans. In theory, this seems like a reasonable approach, but in practice, this often misses the mark. Patients have little to do with their own treatment decisions and most of their lives, which happen outside of this one-hour container, go unaccounted for.
Measurement-based care changes this dynamic entirely by giving clients a say in their own mental health and using data and technology to help them do it. Through this approach, patients are able to track their symptoms and check in with their psychiatrists outside of their sessions. Mental health outcomes are tracked in real-time and this data is used to help them make important treatment decisions with their practitioner. This gives clinicians the ability to establish and measure health baselines for their clients and measure and demonstrate health outcomes leading to smarter and more precise decision-making. Further, the collaborative nature of MBC puts people at the center of their own mental healthcare and creates a comprehensive patient experience that can’t be created under any other method.
With MBC, we now have the ability to broaden our horizons, gain a deeper understanding of mental health, and work to co-create treatment plans that actually work for us and not against us. When we can digitize a historically analogous and ambiguous process, we can make smarter treatment decisions and help more people in the ways that truly matter.
MBC and Health Tech are especially important in psychedelic therapy. This new frontier is just starting to learn to stand on its own two feet and still needs as much support as possible before it can start to walk and one day even run.
Ketamine is currently the only psychedelic that is legal for use by registered practitioners in a therapeutic context, but there are many policy initiatives working towards legalizing other psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA for therapeutic purposes. Historically speaking, all breakthroughs in psychedelic therapy and in neighboring arenas, like the cannabis industry, have come from extensive research and evidence-based initiatives. It is clear here that data plays a pivotal role in moving policy forward and might be the only way to not regress the movement.
Further, the ability to collect patient outcomes through MBC also gives us the ability to develop best practices to ensure psychedelic therapy is safe and effective and can scale in a way that is sustainable. Having a solid foundation and framework for psychedelic therapy to grow out of will in turn make it more efficient. Higher efficiency means we can reduce administrative costs, scale psychedelic therapy safely, and start democratizing access.
In psychedelic therapy especially, it’s incredibly important for patients to be able to see a real return on their investments, as the price of these treatments is lofty and can cost thousands of dollars out of pocket. In the same way that Health Tech and MBC can help clients gain control of their mental health and treatment-decision making in a normal therapeutic context, these impacts are just as profound when MBC is used in psychedelic therapy.
HIPAA compliance and data security
One of the main concerns with digital health is patient privacy and data security, especially in the mental health landscape. The power to collect and aggregate data also comes with a responsibility to protect users’ information.
Historically, most patient records have been kept autonomous through manual record-keeping (think file folders with paper records and handwritten reports). Though this is effective in protecting patient information, it is by no means the most efficient. Health-tech and digital record keeping streamlines the record-keeping process and allows for HIPAA compliance, which is a standard of healthcare requirement designed to protect and uphold patient privacy.
Data and technology are transforming healthcare and putting people back in the driver’s seat of their own health and lives. Now more than ever, it is important that we make the shift towards a data-driven, patient-centric approach to health so that we can truly understand what’s going on inside of our bodies and conquer it.