Where Can Behavioral Healthcare Professionals Start to Prepare for Using Technology in Mental Health?

Technology for Mental HealthAs outlined in a December 2012 interview with Dr. Jay Sanders, known as the Father of Telemedicine, behavioral specialities are the number one need in health care today. See Telemedicine After Two Decades: Where Are We Going And When Are We Getting There? Where shall we in the behavioral specialities go from here? Behavioral healthcare is the linchpin for healthcare. Motivating and sustaining change in patients is the #1 problem faced by healthcare, and we have the skills to intervene in crucial ways. With this growing recognition of the need for behavior change in smoking cessation, obesity, diabetes, exercise, stress management and many other areas, we have the chance we’ve been waiting to find. We also have this opportunity handed to us at a time when technology and those who adopt can surpass barriers related to access, affordability and quality control. As outlined in my recent blog post, New Journal Article Looks at the Future of Telepsychology, Telehealth, and Various Technologies, the biggest remaining challenge in technology adoption is not from clients/patients bur rather, from practitioners. How we handle that challenge will ultimately decide which healthcare disciplines remain viable. Yet, most of us shy away from technology. How shall we best overcome our attitudinal biases against technology? Let’s consider options for us to follow other industries and migrate our work by using a range of different technologies in three areas: practice, education and professional training.

  1. For practice, let’s work with technology experts who design video interfaces, develop better security features for email, and develop mobile apps that are evidence-based. Let’s think about, research and develop distance assessment tools for better and more thorough telepractice intakes; develop client/patient education media for how to use our services more wisely, including technology-based services. Let’s shape licensing and other regulatory issues; and better intervene at times of crises, emergencies and disasters. Who among us has these interests, talents and skill sets? How can we practitioners connect with each other? Where can we go to work with other disciplines to not only talk about using technology, but also shape the tools our industry needs? Form groups. That’s right. Form groups in our existing national associations. For how to get involved as a psychologist, work with us at the proposed Society for Technology and Psychology.  Visit our website and sign the petition if you are an APA member. Members of other disciplines can sign up for news alerts at this Coalition for Behavioral Technology website, where psychiatrists, social workers and counselors are coordinating to share skills and resources.
  2. For education, will we be able to develop inter-professional approaches to mental health care as mentioned by Dr. Sanders in his reference to Arizona State University (ASU), where students are encouraged to work through multiple disciplines to develop the skill sets needed in today’s environment? As a psychologist and faculty member at ASU’s Doctor of Behavioral Health program, I can speak to the excitement in these students, and hope their program serves as a useful model for other colleges and universities to follow. Learn about these inter-professional models surfacing with nurse practitioners, physician’s assistants, and counseling. They are surfacing in many areas.
  3. For training, let’s encourage our associations to deliver professional training through the technolology many of us have at our fingertips. We at the TMH Institute have already demonstrated that online training is not only worthy of CEs and CMEs, but also exciting, timely, less expensive and more engaging than brick-and-mortar conferences and meetings. See our courses for examples of not only webinars and individual courses or study groups, and a Certificate Program for TeleMental Health, but also an entire online conference that can be replicated for any specialty topic area by both small and large associations. Speakers and participants need not travel to interact, everything can be recorded and full transcripts of all proceedings can be made available. Interaction can not only be in the form of live Q&A calls, but also 24/7 discussion forums to stimulate international perspectives and networking. Exhibitors can also make their products and services known to conference participants online at no cost whatsoever, and all interested parties can participate in marketing efforts to promote such events as partners and affiliates.

Changing Ourselves Embracing technology will require that we focus at least for a while on changing ourselves, rather than only changing others. We need to change how we tolerate our own discomfort with taking a risk with something new, deal with the frustration of failure and persisting despite our impatience. Ironic isn’t it? Most of us preach change skills all day long, but are the most reticient to use them with respect to technology. Some of us are up to the challenge. How can you start thinking about evidence-based interventions using some form of technology to aid with broad-scale tools for smoking cessation, obesity, exercise, stress management and the myriad of other behavioral arenas in our domain? Wherever you are in the process, another step is possible today, even if it is just leaving a message here. Comment with your thoughts, ideas for how to get started — or ask a question below.

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