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How Technological Advances Could Transform Psychiatry

September 16, 2019

Digital Tools Already Enhancing Patient Care and Increasing Access

Physician, entrepreneur, and innovator Arshya Vahabzadeh, MD, understands the power neurotechnology can have in the lives of patients. Dr. Vahabzadeh serves as chief medical officer of the neurotechnology company Brain Power, and he has seen the difference smart glasses equipped with artificial intelligence and augmented reality can make in enhancing the social skills of children and adults with autism and attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

In addition, Dr. Vahabzadeh is director of addiction services at Cynergi Health, a part-time correctional psychiatrist and telepsychiatrist, and innovation officer at Massachusetts General Hospital Academy. He is trained in family medicine, general psychiatry, and child and adolescent psychiatry. Based in Boston, Massachusetts, and San Francisco, California, Dr. Vahabzadeh has received more than 20 national and international awards in health care, innovation, and business. The technology expert recently shared some thoughts on the future of psychiatry, which he will expand upon during his upcoming featured session at Psych Congress.

Q: You predict a convergence of technology and science will transform patient care in the coming years. What do you anticipate mental health practice to look like 10 years from now?

A: Human mental health professionals and researchers will continue to be a central part of health care, but they will be augmented by a range of technologies that will help them better understand patients and more thoroughly collect and analyze data.

We are already seeing the heightened expectations of consumers regarding how quickly and easily they can obtain a medical or health care service. This change has been partly fueled by the dramatic rise in affordable, on-demand services, helping us obtain transport, same-day deliveries, and personalized cuisine at the touch of a button. I hope we will be able to address many of the data privacy concerns that have arisen over the last couple of years. However, we will likely continue playing catch-up to rapidly advancing technologies and companies when it comes to data protection and privacy laws.

Also Coming at Psych CongressMDMA Moving Closer to Therapeutic Use

One area of substantial change will be our home and work environments. They will be increasingly enhanced with a wider array of connected devices that will continuously monitor aspects of our lives, including emotions, social interactions, movements, and speech/language. The captured information will then be analyzed using a variety of secure, cloud-based processes. Through a range of visual, audio, and other perceptual inputs, we will be given individualized recommendations that will help us reduce stress, recognize mental health issues, or even suggest an intervention, such as meditation.

Therapy will still be an important part of mental health delivery, and access will be considerably improved using a combination of digital therapists and augmented human clinicians. Triage chatbots will have matured in their use to assess for risk and determine urgency/severity of presentations, while therapeutic chatbots will be able to provide ongoing treatment and assessment in a range of modalities, such as digital cognitive behavioral therapy.

We will also see growth in molecular interventions, partly fueled by improved drug discovery using artificial intelligence and through increased recognition of the value of specific foods, supplements, hallucinogens like psilocybin, and medications that work through the endocannabinoid system. Medication will be supplemented with prescriptive digital software that will improve adherence, monitor for symptom change, and, in some cases, work synergistically with the medication to improve patient symptoms. These pieces of software may run on a variety of wearable (handheld/optic/bodyworn) or remote technologies.Treatment and medication selection algorithms will use pharmacogenomics, sensor data, functional/structural neuroimaging markers, and neurophysiologic findings, such as electroencephalogram (EEG) potentials. In individuals who have serious mental illness, gene editing may even allow us to target specific neurons/ receptors through the use of chemogenetics. Neuromodulation will continue to advance, providing for both personal products and clinic-based therapy.

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