Psychiatry has long stood as one of the more subjective areas of care, but new technologies and large-scale data generation and analysis may offer a more quantifiable approach to mental health treatment.
In a recently published perspective, a group of Verily researchers and Former FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf called for the psychiatric field to embrace digital sensors and the data sciences so that mental health practitioners can reduce the variability in outcomes that comes with intuition-based care.
“For the most part, psychiatric practice continues to rely upon heuristic-based decisions that are frequently reinforced without good comparative evidence, and often for the sake of maintaining a therapeutic relationship for lack of a better alternative. At best, this approach allows practice to remain patient-centered, but at worst, this approach could be maintaining biases that are preventing patients from receiving optimal care,” the authors wrote in npj Digital Medicine. “We propose that today’s era of technological innovations in wearables and mobile devices offers a unique opportunity to redefine these limits of practice toward a new, data-driven future.”
Much in the way that oncology practitioners have begun to marry advanced in genetic testing and medical imaging with subjective symptom assessment, psychiatry could bring data from continuous monitors of activity, behavior, circadian rhythm, and other variables shown to be relevant to mental health, the authors wrote. Incorporating these resources would lead to a greater understanding of patients’ behaviors outside of the clinic, and allow for more targeted interventions informed by clear, measurable data.
To do so, the authors offered four major areas of focus: real-world data collection extending beyond clinical practice, investment in data science and analytics, transparency and empowerment of the patient’s experience (much in the way that consumer wellness apps are digestible and self-reliant), and education for clinicians in how integrating these tools will assist them in providing best psychiatric care.
“We believe that data-driven psychiatry is possible, and that digital measurement tools and analytics, as ‘objective yardsticks,’ can help catalyze this future. With appropriate attention to real world clinical outcomes, data science, patient experience, and the role of clinical judgment with respect to standard of care, psychiatric practice can leapfrog into a modern era already occupied by other medical fields. For the sake of future patients, there is no better time for this investment than today,” the authors concluded.