Verily researchers: Time for psychiatry field to apply analytics, sensors to their practices

Collecting data outside clinical practice, deploying analytics, improving the patient experience and educating clinicians could help improve mental healthcare.
By Dave Muoio
10:16 AM
man wearing smart watch for health data collection

New technologies and large-scale data generation and analysis could potentially bring a more quantifiable approach to psychiatry and mental health treatment.

In a recently published perspective, a group of Verily researchers and Former FDA Commissioner Robert Califf, MD, 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.

The report comes as experts across the industry are hailing a new era of biometrics and sensors is coming to healthcare, Apple is reportedly building custom health chips to track patient information, and hospital are upping their investments in patient experience and mobile tools during the next year.   

“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.

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