The pandemic, the economic downturn, and the war in Europe are all causes causing negative and depressive moods. But access to high-quality mental healthcare differs from nation to nation. Finding a trained expert may be difficult in some locations, or the supply may be insufficient to meet demand. All of these have aided in the quick spread of apps for mental health providers. In the near future, other technological advancements, such AI chatbots, may be crucial in the field of mental healthcare. Let’s examine the advantages and drawbacks of this technology.
In addition to mental health provider applications and AI chatbots, there have been other impressive steps toward mental healthcare:
- By the end of 2020, venture investors put an impressive $1.5 billion into mental health-related startups in the USA.
- There are more than 10 mental health unicorns (companies with a valuation of $1 billion) in the U.S.
- 124 mental health startup deals were closed last year, compared to 69 deals in 2016.
These are great steps. However, the questions must be asked: How effective are these applications? Especially, how effective are those that use artificial intelligence?
Benefits of AI Chatbots
In many businesses where providing excellent customer service is crucial, AI chatbots are used. According to research, some consumers would rather engage with chatbots than with actual people. Chatbots may provide information instantly and are accessible around-the-clock.
These benefits can also be extremely important in mental healthcare. But in terms of mental healthcare, these same advantages can be quite useful. In addition, many people hesitate to seek out psychological healthcare because they worry about being judged, especially when delicate subjects are at stake. It has been demonstrated that chatbots aid in overcoming this phobia and provide assistance to individuals in need. In particular, chatbots are renowned for their anonymity. Some people, for instance, find it simpler to open up to a screen than to a real person.
2: Timely Support
People who put in odd hours are another use case. Finding therapists who can work with their schedules is frequently difficult for people who work night shifts. For people suffering from depression, anxiety, or panic attacks, prompt support is crucial.
3: Reduced Cost
Finally, access to mental healthcare is still considered a luxury by many. For example, in the U.S., one-hour consultations with a professional can cost between $65 and $250. Considering that effective mental health treatment is usually one to three hours per week and necessary for at least a couple of months, it’s easy to understand that the process can be inaccessible for many people. Chatbots can reduce the price of consultation by cutting expenses on traveling costs and telephone charges.
Limitations of Chatbots
Despite the benefits, there are also some limitations to using chatbots. The biggest drawback lies in the technological limitations of AI systems. Even today, chatbots often struggle to understand the nuances of human language.
1: Reading Emotions
For therapy to be effective, it is essential to accurately read not only what is being stated but also the underlying feelings and emotions. The majority of AI systems just are unable to perform both of these activities as well as humans do. Since emotions are so context-sensitive, they can be detected by image or voice recognition. But a chatbot will find it difficult to orient itself if it only has textual material to go on.
Because of this, we cannot be certain that a chatbot will be able to clearly and appropriately respond to a patient’s requests or that it will be able to communicate and solve the issue, which is unacceptable when life-threatening events are being reported.
Another major concern connected to the use of chatbots in healthcare is privacy. Developers have to take effective measures to ensure that data sharing will not expose users to any privacy risks.
How Can Providers Improve Chatbots?
AI in mental healthcare can change the lives of millions of people. Here are some actionable insights into what can be done to make sure the users’ needs are satisfied:
- Improve Natural Language Process (NLP) processes.
- Self-supervised learning in AI can help improve your chatbot’s ability to understand the patient. It combines the benefits of both supervised and unsupervised learning, allowing the program to learn what one part of the input means using another part of the input. This can be perfectly applied to NLP.
- Make it a golden rule to collect conversation success metrics and monitor them regularly. By collecting transcripts of failed conversations, you can keep track of the drawbacks of your system and constantly improve it.
- You can also create post-conversation polls where users can evaluate the conversation.
- Keep humans in the loop.
- Since you know that chatbots don’t work perfectly all the time, make sure that a user who is experiencing communication problems has the ability to connect to a human professional in case of need.
- Leveraging the Benefits
By implementing state-of-the-art AI methods, using effective monitoring metrics and analysis, and keeping humans in the loop when necessary, you can leverage the benefits that AI chatbots bring to mental healthcare such as anonymity, timely support, and reduced costs for the users.