2023 was a pivotal year in the world of behavioral health. Evolving research strengthened credibility for innovative treatments, and more funding and federal legislation for essential services finally seemed to align with public outcry over the ongoing mental health pandemic. This tonal shift offers healthcare leaders and providers a new opportunity to build on the momentum in 2024 and beyond – but only if they’re brave enough to seize the moment. Here’s what trends and challenges we can expect in the year ahead.
Emerging Therapy: Ketamine Therapy and dTMS
The current healthcare system has overlooked behavioral health treatment for far too long, keeping patients and providers stuck. Well-meaning providers often take one of two extremes in response: they stick to the same old-school approach, treating everyone with the same outdated methods regardless of individual patient needs, or they jump on a shiny, new treatment before it gets the time and research required to meet safety and efficacy standards. In 2024, I anticipate a better balance between the two paths: more research and testing will encourage providers to embrace new treatment options.
For example, this year, we saw ketamine-assisted therapy make headlines as a treatment option for depression, addiction, and anxiety. Backed by compelling data in respectable, large-sample studies, ketamine was proven effective for treating long-term alcohol use disorder. It’s no surprise that economists predict the psychedelic therapeutics industry will reach 4.8 billion dollars in market value by the end of this year, with an estimated climb to 6.5 billion by 2030.
Deep TMS (dTMS), another emerging technology in the behavioral health space, can be used as a non-invasive alternative to SSRIs for treating major depression. Deep TMS helmets emit magnetic pulses to regulate neurotransmitter production. As emerging treatments gain credibility and acceptance among healthcare providers and patients, they become more accessible throughout the country – ushering in a new era of mental health care.
AI for Mental Health
Artificial intelligence is making waves throughout every industry, and behavioral health is no different. Like any other evolving technology, AI requires a dose of healthy skepticism and a thorough consideration of the potential risks to patient privacy. Before embracing widespread AI applications, healthcare leaders must do their due diligence, weigh the benefits, and take action to protect sensitive information and ensure confidentiality.
AI is here to stay. Next year, we’ll see healthcare companies break barriers with new applications we’ve yet to imagine. However, innovation should never compromise a patient’s best interests; providers must thoroughly review AI platforms before implementation with the same rigor and discernment they use before referring a patient for a Phase 1 pharmaceutical trial.
AI cannot replace the human element required for personal relationships and experiential knowledge. Cultivating patient-provider relationships is key – at the end of the day, patients need to remain our number one priority, and we can’t allow technology to evolve into apathy.
Hybrid Treatment Models
As we move out of the peak of the COVID pandemic, telehealth therapy is here to stay. Telehealth platforms have brought new levels of access and convenience to behavioral healthcare, previously missed by an in-person-only care model. While patient quotas may encourage providers to seek quick, copy-and-paste solutions easily replicated with telehealth platforms, behavioral health requires a more nuanced approach.
We’ve seen both sides of the coin over the last decade. Great tech companies capitalize on the mental health market and quickly become subpar behavioral health companies, while top clinical practices struggle to operate in a virtual world. The key for mental health tech success in 2024 is to balance technology with clinical excellence. Providers can leverage a hybrid model that builds on existing in-person relationships and expands the continuum of care across a telehealth framework, creating more access and flexibility for patience in the process.
Hybrid models have the power to expand the behavioral health continuum of care for providers and patients. For example, a new or established client can meet their therapist in person for individual sessions on their schedule and attend virtual group sessions from the comfort of home. Individuals receive targeted treatment in one-on-one sessions, then get to practice their newfound skills, empathize with other participants, and tackle potential triggers in a controlled group environment with the guidance of a licensed clinician. As more providers embrace a hybrid treatment model, more clients gain access to comprehensive care.
The conversation is shifting: more people are starting to acknowledge that we need to treat mental health issues with the same urgency as any physical injury or illness. As we move toward increased accessibility, we must continue to actively confront the stigma that has undermined the behavioral health industry as a whole and caused harm to people struggling with mental health and addiction. While we can’t predict exactly what 2024 will bring, there is no doubt that we have much to look forward to as long as we stay focused on providing quality care.