Physician viewpoint: AI should not be used to find behavioral health services

Services that match patients with mental health professionals using artificial intelligence should be approached with caution, due to the ongoing difficulties of developing unbiased AI, according to Scott Breitinger, MD.

In an op-ed for STAT, Dr. Breitinger, a psychiatrist and senior associate consultant in Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic's division of integrated behavioral health, described the "hidden danger" of using AI to find a therapist. Provider-matching algorithms, he explained, are often inherently biased and will therefore automatically pair a patient with a therapist with similar demographic qualities — regardless of how suited they are to meet the patient's healthcare needs.

"The overlooked danger in using artificial intelligence or other tools to prioritize identity features when selecting a mental health provider is that it could systematically amplify a potential confirmation bias for some individuals seeking therapy," Dr. Breitinger wrote. "The successful patient-provider relationship is more dependent on a multidimensional interpersonal connection than on one or a few demographic features."

He suggested two steps that must be taken to reduce this potential bias: Tech developers, for one, should be careful in creating programs that use automated identity matching to guide patients to providers, while clinicians should undergo cultural competency training in order to better address the needs of a diverse group of patients, rather than just those who look like them.

"Technology has the potential to readily improve individuals' opportunities to seamlessly connect with high-quality mental healthcare," Dr. Breitinger concluded. "However, treating artificial intelligence as if it were a black box that automatically produces an optimal result holds the potential to systematically undercut access to care when expert clinical judgment isn't closely tied to applying AI."

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