How web data can boost behavioral health research

Could behavioral medicine lead the web data revolution? A recent viewpoint published in the Journal of the American Medical Association outlined how this could come to pass, exploring the value of "digital footprints" left on search engines and social media and how they can yield health insights.

Behavioral medicine should embrace web data to fill in an area where traditional surveillance is incomplete, according to the article's authors, from San Diego State University Graduate School of Public Health, the Santa Fe Institute and Johns Hopkins University.

How can behavior health use web data? The authors listed six ways, including:

  • Observing manifestation of mental health problems is easier online: This web data can reveal assumption-free insights into concerns.
  • Reflection of more than individual views, because social context is captured online: The data can reveal how social norms spread and influence population health.
  • Effective interventions in behavioral medicine involve changes in public policy: Web data can identify alerts for policy changes and pathways for health advocacy.

Recently, the American Hospital Association published a guide on integrating behavioral health across the continuum of care that included information on the use of technology for effective integration.

"Billions of digital footprints from nearly all parts of the United States and from countries around the world provide a powerful opportunity to expand the evidence base across medicine," the article's authors concluded. "However, for the reasons mentioned previously and more related reasons yet to be expressed, behavioral medicine potentially has the most to gain from web data and could be essential to the broader web data revolution."

Last spring, the American Telemedicine Association published best practices for providing mental health services through personal computer webcams and other devices with interactive video capabilities. The document--"Practice Guidelines For Video-Based Online Mental Health Services"--was developed with input from groups such as the American Psychiatric Association, the American Counseling Association and the National Association for Social Workers, as well as payers, academics, technical engineers and others.

To learn more:
- read the full article in JAMA
- check out the AHA guide

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