The modularization of business functions for greater flexibility and reusability. Instead of building monolithic applications for each department, a service-oriented architecture (SOA) organizes business software in a granular fashion so that common functions can be used interchangeably by different departments internally and by external business partners as well. The more granular the components (the more pieces), the more they can be reused.
A service-oriented architecture (SOA) is a way of thinking about IT assets as service components. When functions in a large application are made into stand-alone services that can be accessed separately, they are beneficial to several parties.
An SOA is implemented via a programming interface (API) that allows components to communicate with each other. The most popular interface is the use of XML over HTTP, known as "Web services." However, SOAs are also implemented via the .NET Framework and Java EE/RMI, as well as CORBA and DCOM, the latter two being the earliest SOA interfaces, then known as "distributed object systems." CICS, IBM's MQ series and other message passing protocols could also be considered SOA interfaces. See Web services.
In the rivers of the Peruvian Amazon, manatees wallow in the murky water, making them very hard to spot. If you're lucky, says British ecologist Kat Bruce, you might see their nostrils poking out above the surface.
A few years ago, she joined conservationists from green group WWF who were travelling a 1,000-km (621-mile) stretch of river to study manatees and other species. "You basically can't survey them apart from by going to communities and asking if they've seen any manatees recently," said Bruce, who in 2014 set up a monitoring company called NatureMetrics.
But the aim of this trip was not a rare sighting. Instead, the team were taking water samples. NatureMetrics pushes the water through a filter to collect traces of DNA, which are analysed in a lab to understand which species are active in the area - both in the water and on nearby land.
In Peru, they found 675 vertebrate species - from manatees and river dolphins to night monkeys living high in the trees. As countries negotiate a global pact to halt and reverse nature loss at the COP15 summit in Montreal this month, researchers and companies like NatureMetrics hope their new technologies can help track progress on protecting biodiversity more accurately than ever before.
They are in a race against time, as up to one million of Earth's estimated eight million plant, insect and animal species are at risk of extinction, many within decades, according to a 2019 international scientific report. On Friday, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) released an update to its "Red List" of endangered species, flagging a "barrage of threats" affecting marine wildlife, including illegal fishing, pollution and climate change.
While success in curbing global warming can be measured in terms of reductions in planet-heating greenhouse gas emissions, understanding what advances in biodiversity protection mean for governments and companies tends to be more complex. "You can't actually measure ecosystem health just by monitoring what you can see," said NatureMetrics CEO Katie Critchlow.
Using environmental DNA, or "eDNA", NatureMetrics says it can gather more biodiversity data far faster than traditional surveys, including the presence of IUCN Red List species. This can be tracked by small DNA filters. Water from an ecosystem is pushed by a syringe through the small discs, which are then sent to specialist labs in Britain and Canada, much like DNA tests to find out people's ancestry.
NatureMetrics, which has grown to more than 140 employees, serves NGOs and companies that are either looking to monitor progress in restoring a degraded ecosystem or measure whether development projects like mining are causing harm. "All of a sudden, now you can know whether things are getting better or not - and that's just not been possible before," said Critchlow.
"We feel that this is quite revolutionary." 'ZOMBIE FORESTS'
The eDNA method is just one of a number of innovative new techniques, said Karl Burkart, co-founder and deputy director of U.S.-based non-profit One Earth, which is working to scale up biodiversity mapping technologies. "In the next three to five years, we're going to have a lot of breakthroughs in direct observation measuring," he said. For example, tiny cameras have been trained with artificial intelligence to collect and interpret what they capture in the field, such as detecting humans and different animal species.
TrailGuard AI, created by the NGO Resolve and chipmaker Intel, is developing this technology to create an alert system against animal poachers in Africa. Another approach is acoustic sensors, which can monitor sounds from species like birds and even insects, and is an "incredibly effective" way of determining the overall health of an ecosystem, Burkart said.
Some forests may look good from satellite images, for example - but inside, their biodiversity can be severely degraded, a phenomenon known as "zombie forests", he explained. "It looks good from space, and inside it's deathly silent," he said.
Burkart added that a "mesh" of these techniques together with remote sensing technology, deployed on planes and satellites, can provide a fuller picture of an ecosystem and how its complex parts interact. BRAND RISK
One leader in remote sensing technologies is Arizona State University (ASU), whose scientists have created a method called "spectranomics" whereby images taken from the air can show the complexity of species. Used across the Andes and Amazon regions, advanced sensors can detect the unique chemical signatures of tree species based on how they interact with sunlight and illustrate the results in colourful maps.
Greg Asner, director of ASU's Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science, said the approach - which he co-developed - can help Strengthen protection of tropical forests beyond broad strategic plans. "Monitoring changes to the composition of those forests helps us to inject specific actions to save what is most unique, or what is different in one forest from another," he said.
As these solutions begin to make their way from scientific papers to equipment used on the frontlines of the natural world, Burkart said investors are taking biodiversity more seriously - and could help expand the techniques for use by businesses. According to a 2020 report from the World Economic Forum, more than half of the world's total GDP is dependent on nature and its services, meaning that nature loss poses a significant risk to global economic health.
Increasingly, companies do not want to be seen to be harming nature, Burkart added, and are under pressure to disclose the risks their operations pose to - and face from - nature. "Investors ... are not going to want to hold companies that aren't able to be scrutinised," he said. "I think there's a societal, public risk of brands being left out of the push to save nature."
Originally published on: https://www.context.news/nature/new-technologies-offer-nature-more-accurate-health-checks
(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)
Diseases, Conditions, Syndromes
Building on the experience of battling the COVID-19 pandemic, African countries are strengthening health systems to prepare for the next health crisis, the World Health Organization's Africa director said Thursday.
21 hours ago
Almost three years into the pandemic, the spotlight isn’t just on COVID medicine anymore. While booster shots and take-home antiviral pills gave us new tools to fight the infectious disease, health researchers and drug makers regained momentum in other crucial areas, like organ transplants, STI prevention, and white-whale therapies for alopecia and HIV. At the same time, AI deepened its role as a diagnostic aid, while mental health services got an accessibility boost across the US. We know the pandemic isn’t over—and other pathogens and illnesses are likely lurking undetected—but the progress we make in medical labs, factories, and care centers can help nurse societies back to health before the next storm hits.
Looking for the complete list of 100 winners? Find it here.
About 1,500 people in the US are born each year with absent or underdeveloped external ears. Traditional reconstruction techniques might fix the cosmetic issue, but a new 3D-printed ear transplant, called AuriNovo, offers a living substitute. The implant is made with proteins, hydrogel, and a patient’s own cells, giving it far more flexibility than any constructed with synthetic materials; plus, the procedure is less invasive than, say, transplanting tissue from a patient’s ribs. To build the replacement, a surgeon first takes a sample of an individual’s ear tissue to separate and culture the cartilage-making cells. Then, based on a 3D scan of the fully formed ear on the patient, the part is printed with collagen-based “bio ink” and surgically inserted above the jaw. A 20-year-old woman from Mexico was the first to get the implant this June. 3DBio Therapeutics, the New York-based regenerative medicine company behind AuriNovo, hopes to use the technology to one day create other replacement body parts, like noses, spinal discs, and larger organs.
COVID therapies have come a long way since the start of the pandemic, and now include several antiviral drugs and monoclonal antibodies. But Pfizer’s Paxlovid was the first oral treatment for the disease to receive emergency authorization from the FDA, meaning it can be obtained with a prescription. It’s also highly effective: Clinical trials show it reduces hospitalization and death from the virus up to 90 percent more than a placebo. The remedy is a combination of two pills: nirmatrelvir, which prevents the novel coronavirus from replicating, and ritonavir, which causes the body to metabolize nirmatrelvir more slowly. The drug does have downsides—it can interact with other medications and sometimes causes a foul aftertaste. Plus, rare cases of rebound COVID symptoms and positive tests have occurred in people following Paxlovid treatment, although research indicates that the latter might be related to the immune system responding to residual viral RNA. Still, it represents a crucial new safeguard for healthcare providers and the public.
Most cases of nearsightedness and astigmatism, which is blurred vision caused by an irregularly shaped cornea, can be fixed with laser eye surgery. But the procedure requires some corneal tissue to be removed and often leaves recipients with lingering dry eyes. EVO ICL provides an alternative with a minimally invasive new way to correct or reduce both conditions. During the approximately hour-long procedure, a flexible collagen-containing lens is implanted between the iris and natural lens. The implant is meant to sit in the eye permanently, but can also be plucked out by an ophthalmologist if needed. In published clinical trial results, close to 88 percent of patients reported 20/20 or better and nearly all achieved 20/32 or better distance vision after six months. The lenses also block some UV rays for added protection.
More than 300,000 people of all ages in the US live with severe alopecia areata, a condition that causes the immune system to attack hair follicles, leading to patchy baldness on the scalp and elsewhere. Hair loss in the nose and ears can affect patients’ hearing and allergies, and a lack of eyelashes can leave people vulnerable to eye irritation from dust. Olumiant, the first medication to secure the FDA’s approval for severe alopecia, can help hair grow back over the entire body. It belongs to a group of drugs called JAK inhibitors, which block certain inflammation-promoting enzymes. It was originally greenlit by the agency in 2018 to treat some forms of rheumatoid arthritis, but in clinical trials for alopecia, it helped roughly a third of participants to regrow up to 80 percent of their hair by 36 weeks, and nearly half after a year. Other JAK inhibitors in development could provide alternatives for patients who don’t fully respond to Olumiant.
Laying motionless for an hour or longer in a magnetic scanner can be a claustrophobic and sometimes nauseating experience. A next-level neural network by GE Healthcare reduces the stress on patients, while filtering out visual noise from movement or faulty processing. The software combs through raw radio-wave data from MRI machines and turns the most accurate bits into high-resolution 3D images. Originally, the AI-reconstructed images had to be stitched together—but the updated tech, which received FDA approval this September, delivers in one go. The speedy precision can cut exam times in half, help hospitals and clinics serve more patients, and possibly Strengthen the rate of diagnosis by giving radiologists a much cleaner view of tissues, bones, masses, and more.
At first glance this condom isn’t all that different from those by other brands. It’s made from natural latex, comes in three thicknesses, and has a wide range of sizes for best fit. But the contraceptive is the first to also be clinically tested for STI protection during anal sex—and has proven to be extremely effective. In studies involving 252 male-male couples and 252 male-female couples, the condoms had a less than 2-percent chance of breakage, slippage, discomfort, and adverse events (which included urinary tract infections and bacteria and viruses spread during sex). With such a healthy showing, the company earned the FDA nod to label the product as “safe for anal sex.” With widespread availability, there’s hope that the condom can help beat back a record rise in chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and other STIs.
One of the niftiest features of mRNA vaccines such as Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID shots is that they can be tweaked and scaled up quickly to keep up with an ever-changing virus. This August, the FDA authorized the first bivalent COVID boosters, modified with new genetic data to target both the original version of SARS-CoV-2 and the Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5. Just how much added protection the bivalent shots offer against the latest versions of COVID remains to be seen, although in early results, the Pfizer-BioNTech booster increased antibodies against the BA.4 and BA.5 sub-variants by up to 11 times, while the Moderna booster did so by up to 15 times. Experts anticipate that the bivalent COVID vaccines, which are available to all adults and children ages 5 and older in the US, could save thousands of lives if the virus surges again this winter.
There are now three official cases of patients in long-term HIV remission—but this one might be the most promising for the millions around the world living with the virus. In 2017, an unidentified American received a blood transplant packed with genes that were resistant to the pathogen behind AIDS. More than four years later, her doctors at Weill Cornell Medicine confirmed that the procedure at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center had indeed made her free of the disease. The miraculous sample was specifically taken from a relative’s umbilical cord blood cells, which were still in the process of maturing and specializing, making it easier for the transplant to take. Previous attempts to cure the disease depended on bone marrow donations that carry a mutated gene only known in Northern Europeans. This alternative treatment makes transplants more accessible for patients from other ethnic backgrounds, so their bodies can fight HIV in the long run as well.
When you have a general emergency, you might call 911. But for people experiencing a mental crisis, the number has been a lot less intuitive. This July, however, the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, run by the US Department of Health and Human Services since 2005, fully switched over to a three-digit code that’s easy to punch in: 988. The shortcut was years in the making, but required major collaboration with the Federal Communication Commission to connect every phone service provider to the alternative number. Since it went live, officials have reported shorter hold times and a 45-percent increase in use compared to August 2021, including on a specialized veteran hotline. The service shakeup also came with $177 million for states and tribes to support the transition in different ways, like alleviating surcharges, setting up call centers, and integrating crisis relief with existing or new emergency responses.
Pads, vaginal seals, and skin patches can be a burden for anyone who has to deal with urinary incontinence on a daily basis. A new electrode device, about as small as a nickel and implanted above the ankle, nips the issue in the bud in a more private and convenient way. Incontinence typically occurs when the muscles in and around the bladder contract too often or too much. To prevent leaks and constant trips to the toilet, the eCoin sends low-key shocks through the tibial nerve, targeting the pelvic organs and relaxing the bladder wall. A doctor can control the intensity of the pulses with a remote, making the device more customizable for a broad range of patients. Neurostimulators have become a vanguard treatment for different nervous system conditions, including chronic back pain and even paralysis—but few are so adaptable as this.
Health disparities across gender, geography, socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity lines have an outsized impact on health outcomes. As providers and payers look to bridge gaps in care caused by such disparities, patient engagement can be an effective tactic.
During a November Becker's Hospital Review webinar sponsored by Health Catalyst, three healthcare leaders discussed how digital patient engagement technology is used at their organizations and what went into adopting and implementing it. Panelists were:
Three key takeaways were:
"We had to address patients that didn't have established relationships with us and who we didn't know had access to broadband and other desktop technologies," Dr. Webber said. By providing reliable access to care, through whatever technology users had available, IU Health generated engagement, nonetheless.
"There were many surprises, [including] the ability and skill level at which this population responded to the platform appropriately," Ms. Quillen said, referring to Twistle, a patient communication platform acquired by Health Catalyst. Ernest Health, which provides post-acute care to older patients, piloted the platform in 2020 with the aim of improving patients' ability to care for themselves after discharge.
Dr. Webber, who is a pediatrician, said IU Health's engagement metrics show that children's caregivers usually open text messages within an hour of receiving them. "The metrics tell us we've designed something that is valuable and meaningful to them," she said, adding that providers should aim for platforms that report on engagement rates, so they can quickly make adjustments if they see users "falling away."
Once an investment has been made, it is necessary to have a human touch associated with such programs, such as a dedicated nurse reaching out to and following up with patients. "Technology makes us efficient in that we're reacting to abnormal [signals] and patients are reassured," Dr. Hoffman said. "But you need to make sure that someone who cares about driving the program is part of your journey, as you're not simply putting people into pathways and not thinking about them."
To register for upcoming webinars, click here.
Given the increased emphasis on connectivity in the medical device industry, it's not too surprising that cybersecurity attacks has been identified as the top health technology hazard for 2022 by ECRI.
The Plymouth Meeting, PA-based independent, nonprofit patient safety organization just released its annual report of health technology hazards for the year. In the report, the organization warns that cybersecurity incidents can disrupt patient care, and thus pose a real threat of physical harm.
“The question is not whether a given facility will be attacked, but when,” said Marcus Schabacker, MD, PhD, president and CEO of ECRI. “Responding to these risks requires not only a robust security program to prevent attacks from reaching critical devices and systems, but also a plan for maintaining patient care when they do. ECRI’s new guidance can help leaders be better prepared to protect their facilities and keep patients safe.”
Healthcare providers today depend on network-connected medical devices and data systems to deliver safe and effective patient care. A cybersecurity incident that compromises those devices or systems could lead to the rescheduling of appointments and surgeries, the diversion of emergency vehicles, or the closure of care units or even whole organizations—all of which could put patients at risk, the organization noted.
During the past five years, ECRI's healthcare recall, hazards, and cyber alert notification service has included 173 medical device cybersecurity alerts; 13 of those have been cybersecurity-related FDA recalls. Affected devices and systems include MRI systems, physiologic monitors, infusion pumps, and lab analyzers.
Last year, for example, FDA alerted patients, providers, and medtech manufacturers that cybersecurity vulnerabilities reported by BlackBerry may affect certain medical devices. The company reportedly kept the software flaw secret for months.
“ECRI remains committed to building awareness about technology hazards to keep patients safe, especially for those technologies that may not have gotten the needed attention during the pandemic,” Schabacker said.
ECRI’s annual report, now in its 15th year, identifies health technology concerns that warrant attention by healthcare leaders. ECRI’s team of biomedical engineers, clinicians, and healthcare management experts follows a rigorous review process to select courses for the annual list, drawing insight from incident investigations, reporting databases, and independent medical device testing.
The full list of health tech hazards identified in ECRI's latest report is below.
1. Cybersecurity attacks can disrupt healthcare delivery, impacting patient safety
2. Supply chain shortfalls pose risks to patient care
3. Damaged infusion pumps can cause medication errors
4. Inadequate emergency stockpiles could disrupt patient care during a public health emergency
5. Telehealth workflow and human factors shortcomings can cause poor outcomes
6. Failure to adhere to syringe pump best practices can lead to dangerous medication delivery errors
7. AI-based reconstruction can distort images, threatening diagnostic outcomes
8. Poor duodenoscope reprocessing ergonomics and workflows put healthcare workers and patients at risk
9. Disposable gowns with insufficient barrier protection put wearers at risk
10. Wi-Fi dropouts and dead zones can lead to patient care delays, injuries, and deaths
The full Top 10 Health Technology Hazards report, accessible to ECRI members, provides detailed steps that organizations can proactively take to prevent adverse incidents. An executive brief version is available for complimentary get at www.ecri.org/2022hazards.
On January 26, ECRI is presenting a top 10 health technology hazards lab webcast, Cybersecurity Incidents: A Threat to Patient Safety and Healthcare Delivery. Speakers include experts from the organization as well as national cybersecurity authorities, including Kevin Fu, acting director of medical device cybersecurity at FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health and program director for cybersecurity, digital health center of excellence and Christian Dameff, MD, medical director of cybersecurity and assistant professor of emergency medicine, biomedical informatics, and computer science (affiliate) at the University of California San Diego. The webcast is free with advance registration.
The virtual health revolution has been prevalent over the last few years, especially fueled by generation-shifting events such as the Covid-19 pandemic. Now, more than ever before, healthcare leaders, organizations, and policy makers are seeing the value of virtual health, both with regards to patient convenience and experience, and the cost savings that virtual health can potentially provide on a systemic level.
Some organizations have leaned in even further with regards to virtual health, using the technology to go beyond simple patient-care encounters. Take for example Penn Medicine’s (based with The University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine) Care Connect program. In a paper published earlier this month in the New England Journal of Medicine, the team writes about “CareConnect: Adapting a Virtual Urgent Care Model to Provide Buprenorphine Transitional Care.” The program leverages Penn’s virtual urgent care services and substance use professionals to provide treatment to patients. As described by the organization, “Trained urgent care clinicians provide virtual assessment and treatment with buprenorphine — a medication that treats opioid cravings and withdrawal symptoms — with patients receiving support from substance use navigators throughout their care process.”
The researchers spearheading this initiative consider this program relatively effective: “The study showed that 89 percent of patients in the program filled their first prescription of buprenorphine, and 55 percent continued to have an ‘active prescription’ for the medication 30 days after being first engaged, indicating that they were still actively in treatment.”
Dr. Margaret Lowenstein, MD, an assistant Professor of Medicine, the lead author of the study, and the research director of the Penn Center for Addiction Medicine and Policy (CAMP), comments: “The numbers are encouraging and likely may even be an underestimate when it comes to who is in active treatment, since it does not capture people in other modes of care, such as methadone, or those who have entered inpatient rehabilitation.”
Amidst an increasingly shaky healthcare landscape with ever-growing rates of substance use, programs like these display innovative ways that existing technology can be used to solve challenging problems.
Another novel way that virtual health technology is being used is exampled by The State of South Dakota’s Department of Health (DOH). The state agency is partnering with a telemedicine company to enable its emergency medical services (EMS) to provide virtual, on-demand emergency care.
The press release explains: “The South Dakota Department of Health (DOH) is pleased to announce the launch of a new telehealth partnership between DOH, Emergency Medical Service (EMS) Agencies, and Sioux Falls-based telemedicine provider, Avel eCare. This initiative will use telemedicine to transform the delivery of care provided to patients throughout the state.” As explained by Joan Adam, DOH Cabinet Secretary, “Telemedicine in Motion will connect EMS agencies throughout South Dakota to board certified Emergency Physicians and registered nurses via telemedicine from Avel eCare…Many of our EMS agencies experience long distances to travel, when our residents need care the most. Through Telemedicine in Motion, Avel will provide virtual triage and consulting services to EMS professionals through two-way audio and video in the back of the ambulance. This initiative will Strengthen the coordination of care between our EMS providers and hospitals.”
Indeed, this is yet another example of tangible and novel impact that is driven by utilizing existing technology. Virtual health infrastructure will enable EMS faculty to better provide services for patients on the ground that need it the most, which will hopefully lead to better clinical and community wide outcomes.
Overall, virtual health technology still has a long way to go, with regards to security, data fidelity, and patient safety. However, the above applications are just two examples of the many unique use-cases of virtual health services that may provide meaningful value to patients.
Mental health Interventions for young people
Using digital interventions to monitor older people's mental health
Technological intervention in a social work context
Hazards of technology-based interventions
Mental health disorders are becoming increasingly frequent in the general population. Mental health disorders are largely associated with improved life expectancy and end-of-life diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s, with over 15% of those over 60 suffering from some form of mental disorder.
Technological devices such as mobile phones, computers, and the internet can provide digital interventions for various mental health-related issues, providing a regular contact point with professionals, reminding patients to take medication, and providing brain training exercises that help to alleviate the symptoms of various mental health disorders.
Image Credit: Marta Sher/Shutterstock
Digital interventions have shown great promise for numerous mental health disorders. However, the generational gap in technology use may leave those most needing mental health intervention vulnerable, namely, the elderly.
Some of the technology-based tools available to physicians when tracking symptom expression and behavioral change, medication response, and disease progression in mental health disorders will be discussed in this article, along with those that can potentially be used directly as therapeutic agents.
University students show a high risk of psychological problems such as anxiety, depression, and stress owing to academic and social pressures. Though most universities offer various forms of assistance to their students, the student may be required to seek additional help. Technological interventions can provide a passive outlet for those with mental health disorders to seek help via a more discreet route than traditional therapies.
Younger individuals frequently choose online options when seeking healthcare advice. Online counseling can be an excellent initial method of mental health triage, where more serious cases can be referred to more traditional mental health services.
There is a significant economic incentive for the widespread adoption of such mental health triage centers, which could Strengthen mental health disorder detection and treatment and streamline existing mental health services, freeing up outpatient clinics and directing patients to where they can receive the most suitable assistance.
While technology-based mental health interventions have proven useful in promoting patient compliance and reporting, a significant subset of those experiencing mental health disorders rarely engage in online activity and do not regularly use devices such as tablets or smartphones. For example, a survey of those over 65 in the USA showed that only 67% had internet access, dropping to only 49% in those over 50 among 16 European Union countries.
The reason for the lack of adoption of new technologies amongst older individuals has been related to several factors: retired individuals are not required to adopt new devices into their work and therefore do not purchase or regularly use them; learning new things becomes more difficult with age, perhaps intimidating those with only passing interest, and lower technological socialization amongst older generations inhibits uptake.
Even so, where adequate training and teaching are provided to older adults regarding the use of technology-based mental health interventions, programs have shown great success in promoting engagement, with, unsurprisingly, online-only-based attempts at older generation education and mental health intervention showing poorer engagement. The advantages of digital health interventions for older adults could be tremendous, avoiding travel and providing access to regular mental health care for those in remote communities.
Outside of virtual counseling, simple technological assistance in the form of reminders and alarms could also be invaluable to elder individuals, promoting good medication and lifestyle management. Specifically designed applications for these tasks are further advantageous over analog lists or notes because technology can be utilized to record compliance. For example, the application could record a short video of the patient taking medication to remind them of when they last took their prescriptions so that physicians can be confident when making changes to dosage.
Related: How is Social Media Affecting Mental Health?
Technology-based interventions are increasingly being adopted in social work settings, allowing for improved patient conditions and compliance monitoring. Many of the benefits already discussed can be applied to those receiving aid from social services, particularly the opportunity for enhanced remote communication.
However, technological interventions may also potentially be applied to disease diagnosis and treatment. For example, cognitive training exercises delivered by computer or smartphone have shown great promise in alleviating cognitive decline in those with Alzheimer’s disease, with clinical evidence of improved blood flow to the brain.
Similarly, virtual reality and other interactive experiences have successfully treated depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and several other psychological conditions, which, as a non-pharmaceutical intervention, can be applied and monitored by social workers.
Around each of the discussed advantages of utilizing technology-based mental health interventions, various potential hazards and concerns arise, primarily regarding data protection. Data must be stored or transmitted securely and without risk of interception. Besides the direct risk of identity fraud should the data be compromised, even the continuous and passive collection of data considered non-identifying must be carefully monitored. For example, data thought confidentially submitted by users could be utilized by marketing companies to plan demographically targeted advertising, or governmental organizations could use the data to draft policies that segregate a subset of the population.
As therapeutic digital mental health interventions, such as virtual reality software or specialized video games, have shown efficacy in alleviating various mental health disorders, it is conceivable that poorly designed examples may harm a patient's well-being and ultimately produce a decline in mental health or otherwise stall proper recovery.
Given this, such therapeutic options must be thoroughly investigated in terms of both short- and long-term efficacy, considering the requirement of continued and unfettered access to therapeutic software.
While online resources can be extremely useful in providing help and advice to those with mental health conditions, the potential unreliability of generic websites or social media platforms poses a potentially lethal hazard, where either incorrect but well-meaning or intentionally malicious advice is given equal footing to empirically evidenced and thoroughly researched science.