Jo Aggarwal is CEO and Cofounder of Wysa, a leader in conversational AI care for mental health.
While health awareness may be rising in the United States, some key indicators of personal health and well-being are heading in the opposite direction. Chronic pain is one such phenomenon. Not only has chronic pain been shown to be on the rise overall for U.S. adults, but it has also increased most for individuals from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who have less access to care.
The continuous barrage of pain takes a toll not only physically, but also mentally. Those living with chronic pain often find it harder to maintain relationships and a healthy social life, to concentrate on work and to pursue other life goals. Worse yet, chronic pain is often associated with long-term dependence on opioid medications, for lack of other treatment options effective at reducing pain.
Enter a new form of chronic pain treatment: conversational AI for mental health. I’m part of this growing industry and often talk with healthcare leaders about the potential benefits and challenges of using conversational AI for mental health. If you’re considering employing conversational AI in your work, here’s what you need to know:
How It Works
Unlike generative AI tools like ChatGPT, these conversational AI platforms are pre-loaded with clinically reviewed responses based on therapeutic techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy that the AI then chooses to distribute based on a user’s text input. Peer-reviewed studies in journals like JMIR and JAMA International have found that when offered AI-guided therapeutic support, patients were able to lessen symptoms of depression, anxiety and even pain interference.
Comparison To Traditional Therapy
CBT has long been an effective tool for chronic pain sufferers. However, it requires a steady cadence of sessions. A shortage of mental health professionals can make finding a therapist difficult and long waitlists to schedule an appointment are common. Even for patients able to find therapists with availability, scheduling and making it to regular appointments can be unrealistic, especially for those suffering from depression or anxiety where even getting out of bed in the morning can be a challenge. The experience of talking to the AI mimics that of a traditional therapy session, but users have 24/7 access to share thoughts and feelings, rather than only during a pre-scheduled appointment.
Interestingly, researchers have found that patients in many instances also form a therapeutic bond with the conversational AI quicker than with a human therapist. This may be from a perceived lack of judgment from the AI, as compared to a human peer, or simply because they’re so readily accessible.
That said, conversational AI isn’t for everyone. At the moment, it’s not intended for instances of high risk or crisis. If a person is managing thoughts related to self-harm or suicide, they should speak to a professional immediately. Within the process of the intervention, conversational AI is also limited in how it takes in a user’s input, such as not being able to understand nonverbal communication.
Considerations For Healthcare Providers
There are a few factors to consider when thinking about whether or not conversational AI care may be a good fit for your organization and patients. Consider:
• Clinical evidence. While there are many mental health apps out there, few have a strong clinical evidence base to support their efficacy claims. Health authorities like the FDA are accrediting certain digital therapeutics, and these types of qualifications will play a crucial role in ensuring patients have the best experience with these new technologies.
• Cost. Conversational AI can be one of the lowest barrier forms of treatment available for chronic pain because several companies offer the use of their platforms for minimal cost. Many major insurance providers also offer access to premium versions of conversational AI care for members.
• Implementation. For patients to be able to use it, providers will need to be able to explain the value of its usage, success factors for use and the appropriate expected results. Knowing that this technology is still novel for many, this will be essential.
• Oversight. Oversight is required both in considering conversational AI platforms for patient recommendation and throughout the patient journey. First, healthcare providers should understand the privacy and data collection aspects of any platform they’re investigating in order to be able to properly inform patients. Some independent authorities like Mozilla and ORCHA can also offer guidance. Once a patient is onboarded, as with any treatment, it’s important to check in regularly to confirm how consistently they’re using the platform and gauge their general attitude regarding their experience so far, so any necessary adjustments can be made.
While there are many factors to consider, informed conversational AI represents an exciting opportunity for healthcare leaders to advance patient care and potentially drive significant quality-of-life improvements.
Forbes Business Council is the foremost growth and networking organization for business owners and leaders. Do I qualify?
Read the full article here