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Tech Trends 2024: What to Watch out for This Year in Digital and Telemental Health

  • January 04, 2024

In last year’s Tech Trends blog, our health technology keyword for 2023 was change: changing legal and regulatory frameworks, financial strategies and reimbursement, and user and provider capabilities and preferences. The federal government has continued to delay permanent policy around telehealth, including Medicare reimbursement and telemedicine prescribing of controlled substances, so there is more change to come in 2024 as practice and payment policies are finalized.

For 2024, our health technology keyword is precision. We can expect to see a move toward increased precision in technology-driven health care diagnosis, documentation, and treatment in two major areas relevant to psychiatry: telehealth usage and augmented or artificial intelligence (AI).

Through the shift from pre-pandemic largely in-person care to pandemic-era predominantly telehealth care, mental health has emerged post-pandemic as the specialty with the highest percentage of consistent telehealth usage (.pdf) at a little less than half of visits. Telehealth usage has decreased across all specialties since the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency in May 2023, but remains significantly higher than it was pre-pandemic. The question for 2024 and after is when telehealth is the best choice for care delivery. Researchers and clinicians should investigate the most effective modality for care based on diagnosis, clinical service, and patient needs and preferences. These questions extend to the precise telehealth modality, identifying when audio-only care may offer comparable results to video encounters while accommodating digital equity considerations. Clinicians can also incorporate patient choice into scheduling and care delivery, ensuring that patients can choose in-person or telehealth care. With external pressures to deliver telehealth decreasing, clinicians can look out for ways to deliver the right kind of care that allows patients the most effective access for their specific needs.

Artificial or augmented intelligence (AI) was in the driver’s seat this year, with the value of AI in health care almost doubling from $11 billion in 2021 to $20 billion in 2023. AI offers significant opportunities for precision psychiatry, including use of novel data types to enhance patient-level diagnosis and treatment; AI-assisted point-of-care documentation and alerts to reduce medical errors; and identification of population-level signs and symptoms to psychiatric diagnostics. Look out for new insights and patterns that AI-driven tools can derive from large datasets and the incorporation of passive data (e.g., wearables) and self-reported data into the medical record. Continue to consider ethics in the use of AI in psychiatric care, including ensuring the privacy and security of patient data. Be aware that AI-driven technologies can affect mental health care and outcomes in both clinical and personal settings.

Amara’s Law says: “We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.” Perhaps changes in the precision of psychiatric diagnosis and treatment won’t happen this year – but could it look substantially different in ten years? Consider what technology-driven changes you would like to see to improve psychiatric care quality and outcomes.

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