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A new study from Botco AI, a HIPAA-compliant conversational marketing platform, surveyed executives from various types of mental and behavioral health facilities and organizations to understand the impact of the pandemic and how it has increased the need for mental health services. Titled “The State of Conversational Automation and Access to Mental Health Services,” the study also focused on how mental health service providers are using technology to interact with current and prospective patients.

The biggest learning from the study is that conversational AI (artificial intelligence) is a game-changer for behavioral health care. According to the study, “The pandemic’s social-distancing mandates, lockdowns and restrictions prompted the need for online assistance, virtual appointments and digital interactions to facilitate greater accessibility to mental health care.”

Conversational AI eases the pathways to treatment: The overwhelming majority of respondents — 89% — said that automated chat tools make it easier for patients to access the mental health treatment they need. More than three-quarters (76%) confirmed that they used technology for patient coordination and intake, and 61% said that their company’s website is already using conversational AI to answer questions from prospects or their families.

“The findings of this study show how important it is for mental health facilities to embrace new technologies in order to reduce the barriers that prevent millions of Americans from accessing the mental health services they need,” said Anu Shukla, cofounder and executive chairman of Botco AI.

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Increased need for mental health services

While the pandemic disrupted or halted critical in-person mental health services, the demand for mental health treatment actually increased. As a result, 100% of survey respondents expanded their virtual behavioral support during the pandemic.

Approximately 34% of survey respondents acknowledged that their mental health facility, behavioral health organization or addiction treatment center boosted their online assistance 50-75% to help those who were experiencing mental health challenges.

The mental health effects of the pandemic were felt disproportionately: Approximately 41% of respondents believe that the pandemic has made it harder for people in general to access mental health treatment. 55% said that the pandemic has made it harder for African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans and LGBTQ+ individuals to access mental health services.

The benefits of conversational AI in behavioral healthcare

“These days, video-conferencing capabilities have become table stakes for mental health facilities,” said Shukla, “and many treatment centers are beginning to leverage AI and automation for crucial functions such as prospect qualification, patient intake, and even the treatment itself.”

For patients, digital interactions, online healthcare services and the use of conversational AI technologies such as chatbots can have many benefits, including:

  • Healthcare without geographical boundaries.
  • 24/7 patient support and resources.
  • Ease of booking appointments with therapists and healthcare professionals.
  • Tailored responses that transform their patient journey and help improve clinical outcomes.
  • A user-friendly, judgment-free environment that eliminates stigma and embarrassment.
  • Overcoming potential language barriers.

For providers, using conversational AI to streamline the intake process can play a critical role in the operational, financial and clinical success of medical practices and health systems. This not only means faster throughput and shorter wait times, but also enables health care providers to use their time to provide better care for their patients, rather than filling out paperwork.

In regard to conversational automation, specifically, Shukla said, “not only does it help patients and their families get faster, more accurate answers to their most pressing questions, but it can also help verify insurance benefits instantly and it can tie into the patient’s electronic health record in order to ensure a higher quality of care.”

Providing on-demand support is critical to improving access to mental health services

Digital channels empower facility discovery: 49% of patients and their families learned about their chosen treatment facilities online using website tools like chatbots, much more frequently than through word of mouth (25%), doctor recommendations (19%), or advertisements (7%).

Chatbots are already popular patient tools: 61% of respondents said that their organizations already had conversational AI tools in place on their websites to answer questions from prospective patients or their families.

AI chat is perfectly positioned to answer FAQs: The most common topics patients and their families broach before enrolling in treatment include cost (68%), insurance coverage (60%), duration of treatment (46%), available types of treatment (43%), and payment options (41%). These are all questions that automated chatbots are designed to answer, providing patients with the support they need without requiring additional employee effort.

“The good news is that the majority of mental health facilities are already embracing chatbots and other technologies,” said Shukla, “but based on our findings, the industry as a whole still has some work to do in order to improve mental health support for those who need it, and for minorities in particular.”

In June 2022, Botco AI surveyed approximately 120 executives, including vice presidents, executive directors, facility managers and admissions directors, employed at mental health facilities, behavioral health organizations, addiction treatment providers and rehabilitation centers.

Read the full report from Botco AI.

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