Navigating the Intersection of Technology and Humanity in Behavioral Health Care

Updated on May 25, 2024
Medicine doctor hand working with modern computer interface as medical network concept

The temptation to embrace the latest, greatest technologies frequently overshadows the need to preserve the human experience in health care. While technology has the potential to revolutionize care in terms of access and outcomes, it cannot replace human connection. Today, it is critical to find the proper balance between leveraging the power of technological innovation and maintaining the key components that underpin quality care.

A Paradigm Shift

Technological breakthroughs such as virtual care and telemedicine have transformed behavioral care access, particularly for underserved communities. Their impact transcends mere convenience: these tools empower people to take their health into their own hands and bridge the gap between appointments. 

The proliferation of mental health apps is also altering how individuals engage with their behavioral health. According to the American Psychological Association, mental health-related self-help apps now number somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000, and the global mental health apps market, which was estimated at $6.2 billion in 2023, is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 15.2% from 2024 to 2030. From mood trackers to virtual therapy services, these applications offer a variety of tools to support individuals in managing their mental well-being. While these apps provide convenience and accessibility, particularly between provider visits, they cannot replace the nuanced empathy and therapeutic rapport that underpins successful behavioral health care, especially for complex conditions like substance use disorders and chronic depression. 

Equally concerning is the lack of evidence of these apps’ effectiveness: despite their widespread adoption, the efficacy of mental health apps remains under scrutiny. Real evidence-based validation is still in the early stages, indicating the need for caution when relying solely on digital interventions for behavioral health care. A human-centered approach that encompasses personalized care and therapeutic rapport remains essential for achieving meaningful treatment outcomes.

The Promise and Pitfalls of AI

As it does with most industries, artificial Intelligence (AI) holds potential in transforming behavioral health care delivery, from streamlining administrative tasks to enhancing patient engagement and personalizing treatment planning. However, the integration of AI should be handled carefully, particularly concerning the patient-provider relationship. Research has revealed significant discomfort among individuals regarding the reliance on AI in health care: six in ten U.S. adults say they would feel uncomfortable if their own health care provider relied on artificial intelligence to do things like diagnose disease and recommend treatments. This underscores the importance of maintaining the human-provider relationship and suggests that AI’s true value lies in augmenting human capabilities, not replacing them. 

Embracing a Hybrid Model

The key to addressing the challenges in behavioral health care lies in embracing a hybrid model that seamlessly integrates technology and human expertise. Consider the potential of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) for exposure therapy. Imagine a patient with phobias confronting their fears in a safe, controlled VR environment, guided by a therapist in real-time. Or another patient using augmented reality for social skills training, allowing them to practice interactions in simulated scenarios. 

There are practical uses for AI in behavioral health care as well. For example, AI could serve as a diagnostic tool, using audio or visual cues to discern depression or anxiety symptoms.  AI could also recommend personalized treatment plans by analyzing vast datasets and tailoring interventions to individual needs. In these examples, technologies enhance traditional therapy rather than replace it.

 A Better Way Forward

By prioritizing a hybrid model that preserves human connection while harnessing the potential of technology, we can pave the way for a more inclusive, effective, quality-focused delivery of behavioral health care. It is important that we not lose sight of the core principles of behavioral health care—compassion, empathy, and human connection – and continue to honor them even while embracing the opportunities that technology affords us. 

Sarah Reilly
Sarah Reilly
Senior Vice President Product and Strategy at Lucet

Sarah Reilly is Senior Vice President Product and Strategy at Lucet.