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Ivey International Centre for Health Innovation

Harnessing technology to improve mental healthcare

  • Rahina Damji
  • |
  • Feb 4, 2019
Harnessing technology to improve mental healthcare

The Canadian Business Frontiers conference convened Canada’s top leaders across finance, energy, health and government sectors to discuss the impact of technological disruption on Canadians. This cross-sector dialogue took steps towards ensuring positive change and sustainable outcomes for the benefit of our society. The conference included featured talks from world-class leaders and award winning faculty, as well as networking opportunities with some of Canada’s best leaders in health. Although the conference’s central focus was the disruptive nature of technology at large, the health implications of technological advancements offered a very important part of the discussion. The following paper will highlight the main themes of the conference concerning enablers and barriers of disruptive technology, and how they apply to health innovation, particularly in light of mental health care.

Within the current landscape of Canadian literature, a gap exists in the development and analysis of technology that addresses mental health disparity within the Canadian population. Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that even with the range of helpful drug therapies and psychosocial treatments available, there has been minimal reduction in morbidity and mortality rates from mental illness. This data highlights the need for the development of innovative solutions that assist with the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness. Recent advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) technology has introduced many potential applications to medicine and specifically mental health. With greater objectivity and predictive value, AI can assist in making a more informed diagnosis of a patient’s condition through audio and video analysis than a human health care professional. Moreover, technology that includes sensors and smartphone applications allow for monitoring of individual behavioral indicators.  This technology can lead to improvements in early detection strategies and preventative approaches to mental health care.

Treatment practices for individuals with mental illness are supported by emerging technologies, such as internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy and support programs. Considering the current burden on our health care systems in Canada, use of these technologies can work to re-balance the workload of clinicians, allowing them more time to interact with patients.Efficiency and accuracy can also be achieved through using algorithmic systems to summarize patient information. Furthermore, these interventions, if widely available, may also work to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness and allow for greater personalization of care.

However, barriers to the development and use of technology are evident. Careful consideration must be given to the issues of capacity and consent, data security, patient privacy and clinical governance to ensure that ethical practices are still upheld through the use of these innovative mental health technologies.

Through a health innovation lens, the key themes that emerged from the conference directly highlight important considerations for the future of health technology. These themes surrounded both the ethical and practical implications of technology in health settings. A central argument looked beyond profit as the driving factor to development, and emphasized that health technology must fulfill a social responsibility by working to narrow disparity within access to care. Furthermore, the need to respect and uphold the therapeutic relationship within shifting healthcare practices and the importance of being sensitive to the needs of the populations that this technology is intended to serve were stressed.

As 1 in 5 Canadians experience a mental health problem or illness in their lifetime, the need for developing innovative, and technology-based solutions to mental health challenges is evident. The conference panel sessions along with breakout discussions on the current and future impact of disruptive technology in mental health care offered an in-depth analysis of the enablers and barriers to innovation in this field. The barriers to health technology that were discussed included accessibility, stigma, privacy, cost and discomfort in replacing human interaction. The disparity between innovation and implementation was also examined as a significant inhibitor to development, since innovative health solutions often fail to develop and commercialize beyond the pilot phase.

The conference worked to explore ways to minimize the effect of these inhibitors by identifying enablers to innovation.  Three components that support the development of mental healthcare solutions were identified as evidence (does it show efficacy?), adoption (does it fit into current workflows?) and reimbursement (who will pay?). Effective consideration of these three components will ensure success within the development of innovative solutions. The importance of engaging in multidisciplinary discussions was also emphasized as an enabler that mitigates the gap between innovation and implementation. Furthermore, the precision medicine movement highlighted an opportunity to revolutionize treatment. Now, more than ever, the availability and abundance of data allows for the ability to analyze clinical, behavioral and medical information and utilize this information effectively.

Throughout the discussion on the enablers and barriers to health innovation, the fundamental theme that emerged was the urgent and pressing need for health care professionalsto be cognizant of the significant role they play in the successful integration of emerging health technology. Successful integration of innovative technology in healthcare relies heavily on promoting a change within the mindset of health professionals towards adopting technology-based treatment practices. This role can span beyond simply supporting technology to being involved in the development of it so health professionals, as primary users, are able to inform innovation and ensure the advancement of effective technology.

Keep an eye out for an upcoming white paper that will discuss the following questions: How can we come up with practical solutions to implementing technology in the mental health scene? How can we manage this implementation more effectively by utilizing business management skills?


We would like to thank all of the speakers and panelists for supporting the Canadian Business Frontiers conference. To learn more about our speakers and their unique insight click here.