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Cognitive Technology for Addiction-It's Time for Action

Thomas Morrow, MD, is the chief medical officer for Next IT. His current position is the culmination of his passion to improve clinical outcomes for people with chronic disease through the use advanced natural language processing and artificial intelligence. He graduated from Thomas Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, practiced family medicine for 14 years, and held a variety of positions including a faculty position at a residency and medical school, staff physician at a staff model health maintenance organization, and numerous medical director positions at multiple health plans.
David Gustafson, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, has created, and studied in a randomized fashion, a smartphone application to support recovery from alcoholism and published extensively on this topic. In his article, he describes a mobile technology application called Alcohol-Comprehensive Health Enhancement Support System, (A-CHESS), which runs on a smartphone. He utilized a “self-determination theory” as the theoretical basis that “posits that meeting 3 needs contributes to an individual’s adaptive functioning.” These 3 needs are: being perceived as competent, feeling related to others, and feeling internally motivated and not coerced in one’s actions.
The A-CHESS application supplies both static content (audio-guided relaxation) as well as interaction features. It also included a warning function using the GPS function of the smartphone: if a patient traveled to a location of a frequently visited bar, it would ask the patient if he really wanted to be there. The application also included a “panic button” that could contact 2 people who acted as accountability partners. Trained counselors monitored the data.
This study demonstrated high participation. It also determined that patients in the A-CHESS group reported significantly fewer “risky drinking days” greater abstinence as well as higher scores for “abstinence confidence.” Although there were some limitations and a need for further studies, this “state of the art” intervention demonstrated that a digital, infinitely scalable approach is worthy of consideration. Of interest is that this research has lead to a commercial product from a company named CHESS Mobile Health, Inc.
Cognitive Technologies Come to Medicine
Although A-CHESS is a remarkable development in the treatment of drug addiction, I propose an even more remarkable approach to this illness; the addition of natural language understanding in the form of a Virtual Health Assistant (VHA).
A VHA is several generations beyond the typical smartphone “app.” It is the result of the culmination of advanced smartphone technology: artificial intelligence (AI), natural language understanding (NLU), and cloud-based computing combined to create a centerpiece of what Deloitte has termed "cognitive technology."

In their white paper, the authors outlined the inevitable need for this approach in healthcare. A VHA can emulate humans. It brings the power of the “predicate” technologies to an individual person in a here-to-for unprecedented manner. And, the big difference is that a VHA can talk!
Because of AI and NLU, a VHA can literally enter into a conversation with you. The NLU function can understand regular human speech, not just as “voice recognition” but beyond that, it can understand the intent of the conversation and act on that understanding. A VHA acts in a way that a human might respond to a statement or question, hence the term "human emulation."

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