American Psychiatry Association LogoThe medical specialty of psychiatry is embracing digital health more and more, an interesting development for a field known for its psychoanalytic theories and face-to-face live patient interviews. This year’s American Psychiatric Association‘s (APA) annual meeting in Toronto featured a greater presence and enthusiasm for wearables and digital technology than in any prior year.

Discussions of wearable devices, apps, and data permeated the APA’s talks and exhibits, from computerized cognitive behavioral therapy to electronic medical records (EMR). The adjunct meeting of the American Association of Technology in Psychiatry featured speakers and guests, including technology start-ups—a behavioral assessment platform backed by Kaiser Permanente Ventures—and M3 Clinician, alongside researchers and informaticists from Yale University, University of California Riverside, and the University of Southern California.


How can wearable devices work in behavioral & mental health?

In this APA TV video, Harvard University’s Arshya Vahabzadeh, MD, who serves as APA’s Chairman of the Council on Communications, discussed the potential of wearable technologies. The Apple Watch, for instance, may have potential for the diagnosis and assessment of behavioral illnesses.

People are collecting a lot of rich data about themselves, about their sleep, about their behavior, about what they do on a day-to-day basis, [like] stress levels,” Vahabzadeh said in a television interview featuring wearables. “We know that behavior contributes to great burden for our medical costs, especially for chronic health conditions.”

Out of the 38 television interviews produced for the meeting’s APA TV YouTube series, Vahabzadeh’s interview on wearable devices accounted for almost a third of total views, signaling great interest in this topic.

Psychiatrists can harness this trend to help treat patients,” Vahabzadeh stated.

Dr. Vahabzadeh has first-hand experience of using wearables in health and educational settings. He works with Ned Sahin, Ph.D, at Brain Power, a technology start-up company that developed Google Glass-based software to help children with autism spectrum disorders learn emotion recognition, language, and self-regulation.


The APA on twitter

Twitter, similarly, featured more chatter about technology’s use for mental health, and the top tweets from #APAAM2015 captured this trend. A tweet (by @Rev_Medicine) showed that virtual reality technologies have therapeutic potential for anxiety disorders, trauma, and substance use disorders. This tweet was one of the most shared (in the form of retweets) at the APA.

As psychiatrists, we are the medical leaders of the mind, brain, and body,” Vahabzadeh stated, reiterating the APA’s new slogan.

In my next article, I’ll explore how mental health apps are playing a greater role in psychiatry.

Steven Chan, MD, MBA (@StevenChanMD)
Dr. Chan is a Clinical Informatics fellow at UC San Francisco (UCSF)'s Division of Hospital Medicine, serving as editorial boardmember for the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR) Mental Health, and develops cutting-edge research in the areas of digital mental health, with applications for cultural psychiatry and underserved minority health. Steve's ideas, thoughts, and research have been featured in JAMA, Healthcare, JMIR (Journal of Medical Internet Research), Wired, PBS, and NPR Ideastream. Steve serves as Vice Chair for the Workgroup on Mental Health & Psychiatric Apps at the American Psychiatric Association (APA), a part of the Committee on Mental Health Information Technology.



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