From the Editor

More and more organizations use AI; today, a chatbot might assist you in ordering a pizza or tracking a package. But could a chatbot help our patients find the mental health care that they need? Could it help self-identified members of ethnic groups – who historically do less well in getting services – with access?

Johanna Habicht (of Limbic) and her co-authors try to answer these questions in a new study for Nature Medicine. They looked at the use of a chatbot for self-referral against the standard option in the UK’s NHS when patients seek psychological care. The resulting multisite observational study involved almost 130 000 people. They found that AI increased referrals (especially, in terms of diversity). “Here we demonstrate that digital tools can reduce the accessibility gap by addressing several key barriers.” We look at the study and mull its implications.

As we move past the pandemic, we ask: is virtual care routinely offered for mental disorders? In the second selection from JAMA Health Forum, Jonathan Cantor (of the RAND Corporation) and his colleagues consider mental telehealth – or telepsychiatry, to use the older term – in the United States. With a secret shopper approach, trained callers phoned more than 1 400 US clinics, posing as potential clients with mental health problems. They found most offered virtual care. Further: “There were no differences in the availability of mental telehealth services based on the prospective patient’s clinical condition, perceived race or ethnicity, or sex.”

And, finally, we explore the latest in the news with recent articles from The Guardian and The New York Times. Among the topics: the mental health struggles of rising political star Lina Hidalgo, privacy and mental health apps, and help for those with schizophrenia and homelessness in Cameroon.


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