How To Use Technology Ethically To Increase Access To Mental Healthcare

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A new report created by the World Economic Forum Global Future Council on Neurotechnologies, Empowering 8 Billion Minds: Enabling Better Mental Health for All via the Ethical Adoption of Technologies, proposes a framework to address privacy, trust and governance issues in the use of technologies for mental healthcare.

As Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies offer new opportunities to address the mental healthcare burden, the report urges people with lived experience, policymakers, business leaders and practitioners to consider the ethical implications.

Mental health disorders are among the leading causes of mortality and could cost the global economy $16 trillion by 2030. By collecting and analysing data to inform treatment, it is easier for more people to access information and engage with professionals. While technologies, including smartphones, wearable sensors and artificial intelligence, are successfully meeting the current gaps in care, there are risks.

“This report represents the first step in a longer process to ensure technology for mental health is used ethically,” said Vanessa Candeias, Head of Health and Healthcare and Member of the Executive Committee at the Forum. “We need policymakers, industry leaders, innovators and users of these technologies – including doctors and people with lived experience – to harness their benefits while staying aware of the risks.”

“AI and mobile digital technologies are a double-edged sword,” said Murali Doraiswamy, co-chair of the report and Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University School of Medicine, USA. “They offer an unprecedented opportunity for us to democratize and enhance access to mental healthcare for hundreds of millions of people and to increase the efficiencies of global health systems. But we also need to recognize this is a work in progress. We need to put in place governance systems to ensure the technology is used in a fair, empathetic and evidence-based manner to minimize known and future emergent risks.”

Some organizations, which use technology to provide mental healthcare, are focusing on ethical ways to increase care. Possibilities include counselling via text messaging or chat, training coaches to provide support in areas where there are few qualified professionals, and offering online interactive training on cognitive behavioural therapy or reduction of anxiety and depression.

The report calls for eight actions to realize the benefits of technology for mental healthcare while mitigating the risks:

  1. Create a governance structure to support the broad and ethical use of technology and mental healthcare
  2. Develop regulation that can enable innovation and ensure safety and efficacy
  3. Embed responsible practice into new technology designs
  4. Adopt a “test and learn” approach in implementing technology-led mental healthcare
  5. Exploit the advantages of scale by deploying innovations across larger communities
  6. Standardize the metrics used to measure, assess and understand mental health
  7. Build technology solutions that can be sustained over time
  8. Prioritize low income communities and countries

The report was produced in collaboration with Accenture.