A growing crisis in mental health and drug addiction is prompting psychologists and other healthcare professionals to weigh the benefits of wider access to therapy chatbots to unlock a new model of mental health care.
Therapy chatbots are enjoying rapid advances in technology catapulting the chatbot market into one of the fastest-growing healthcare segments. By 2023 the US market is expected to exceed $314 million.
A New Model Of Healthcare
Add the commercial upside for healthcare providers to an appetite for advanced technologies, as part of patients’ healthcare regime and this growth is hardly surprising.
In particular, therapy robots are an affordable, accessible option for caregivers busy helping others but in dire need of care themselves.
Therapy Chatbots In Mental Health
Therapy chatbots in a mental health environment are focusing patients at high risk of developing or experiencing anxiety, depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, and substance abuse issues.
Potentially therapy chatbots are showing potential benefit in psycho-education settings and in supporting patients in maintaining their mental health regimes. In particular, the current satisfaction rating for chatbots employed as conversational agents is high, suggesting substantial potential as an effective and enjoyable tool when used in psychiatric treatment.
Three Therapy Chatbot Types
Currently, healthcare therapy chatbots come in three main types:
- Task-oriented chatbots designed to deal with specific scenarios such as placing orders or scheduling appointments.
- Data and information-driven chatbots using AI and expert systems to answer queries as creatively as possible to keep the conversation engaging for the person on the other end of the chat and avoiding repetition to discuss concerns over drug interactions or to explain the side effects of medication
- Domain-specific chatbots operating in a specific area of interest, designed to provide answers based on specific information to a narrow set of scenarios.
Exploiting Artificial Intelligence (AI)
The performance of therapy chatbot particularly their adaptive flexibility is largely driven by AI coupled with machine learning technology.
AI eliminates human bias in interactions and enables natural language processing to expand conversation topics so essential in mental health treatment. This substantially increases the range of valid responses available to a therapy chatbot.
Being able to answer an expanded set of specific questions and provide in-depth information will greatly increase the usefulness of current and a future generation of therapy chatbots in the mental health arena.
The ability to access enormous data sets to quickly and effectively extract insights and identify outliers using pattern recognition is a task far better suited to AI than to time-poor humans. Therapy chatbots may prove to be more skilled at spotting potential warning signs than humans.
Moreover, therapy chatbots can apply deep data dives and machine learning to continually learn from their ongoing patient interactions, continuously improving the quality of their tailored responses to a patient’s mental health query.
While the technology can be mesmerising, we need to recognize therapy chatbots are machines, however sophisticated they may ultimately be. They follow their programming. They may use deep/machine learning to continually learn from their ongoing interactions but how well they ultimately perform remains largely up to how we integrate them into a holistic healthcare strategy.