This Could Change Everything

September 2015
Kim Johnson, PhD
Co-Director, ATTC Network Coordinating Office
Deputy Director, NIATx

I started to write this blog post with the “Chinese curse”:  “May you live in interesting times.”

And then found myself spending ten minutes Googling the source of the curse.

You know how that goes, right? You look up something that you think will take 10 seconds, and 10 minutes later you stop yourself from going from link to link to link because the fascinating non-answer to your question leads to more sites with more information. You might never get the straightforward answer to your question, but you get more information on the subject than you ever thought you wanted to know. We live in times where information is abundant, but the process of sorting through it all takes more of our time and energy than we could ever have imagined 25 years ago.


Twenty-five years ago (well, maybe closer to 30) I was a young, fresh out of school, child and family therapist. The problems that I confronted then were exactly the same problems that counselors face today: how to engage patients in change, how to balance my time between seeing people and completing the dreaded paperwork, how to detach from the patient’s problems so I could go home at night and be a person with a happy life. But the tools available today have changed the solutions that counselors can employ to solve the problems that have not changed over time.


The National Frontier and Rural ATTC Technology Summit that I attended recently in Austin featured presentations on how providers and funders are deploying technologies to improve patient outcomes and increase efficiency. Of course, some of my own research centers on using mobile technologies to effect change, so this is the kind of conference that I really get excited about attending.

You can view all of the great presentations on the National Frontier and Rural ATTC website.

My take-away from the conference? 

We live in interesting times--hence my search for the origins of the curse. 

The opportunities for effecting change are exciting and could affect our methods profoundly within a very short period of time. Our ability to collect vast quantities of data, sift through it for relevant correlations, and to predict and then meet needs instantaneously and automatically is one of those shifts in addressing SUDs that really does deserve a headline like:
THIS COULD CHANGE EVERYTHING!!!

Research that I am involved right now in is developing algorithms to predict relapse and designing more effective and immediate interventions. Other research is sifting through vast quantities of health information from EHRs and assessing needs at the population level. Others are working on virtual reality, avatars, and how to develop environments with avatar counselors who don’t say the wrong thing or revert to “How did that make you feel?” when they don’t know what else to say.

The risks are also profound, and getting from where we are now to the future that the presenters at the NFAR Summit envision will require a lot of trial and many errors. The whole issue of sorting through the data and making sense of it is one that pretty much every industry is trying to solve right now.

Let me give you an example. While I was in Austin, real estate ads for Austin properties started to pop up in my Facebook feed. So far, the algorithms that are being used to send targeted marketing are pretty weak and produce some weird results. If you wonder why the heck something showed up in your Facebook feed, it's probably related to some search you made combined with some data that Facebook has about you, and poof! next thing you know, you are getting ads about how to lose twenty pounds fast or the best places for Millenials to live or how to cover your grey. (These were in my feed today – I love to keep Facebook guessing). Right now, the computer algorithm is not doing much better than my meandering search through Google.

But eventually it will.

And next Christmas when you all are wearing your new Oculus goggles and battling goblins in your living room in a video game that combines real and virtual worlds (that you downloaded for a dollar from the app store), you can begin to think about the next wave of innovation and how it might impact the world we work in.

We live in turbulent, interesting times. And, it turns out, "May you live in interesting times"  is not an ancient Chinese curse after all. I will let you spend your own 10 minutes searching for the answer, which will be different from the one I found, because the algorithms for your Google search are set to your prior uses, which are different from mine. 

That is what we call individualized care.

 Kimberly Johnson, NIATx Deputy Director and ATTC Network Coordinating Office Co-Director served for seven years as the director of the Office of Substance Abuse in Maine. She has also served as an executive director for a treatment agency, managed intervention and prevention programs, and has worked as a child and family therapist. She joined NIATx in 2007 to lead the ACTION Campaign, a national initiative to increase access to and retention in treatment. She is currently involved in projects with the ATTC Network and NIATx that focus on increasing implementation of evidence-based practices, testing mobile health applications, and developing distance learning programs for behavioral health.

Kimberly Johnson, NIATx Deputy Director and ATTC Network Coordinating Office Co-Director served for seven years as the director of the Office of Substance Abuse in Maine. She has also served as an executive director for a treatment agency, managed intervention and prevention programs, and has worked as a child and family therapist. She joined NIATx in 2007 to lead the ACTION Campaign, a national initiative to increase access to and retention in treatment. She is currently involved in projects with the ATTC Network and NIATx that focus on increasing implementation of evidence-based practices, testing mobile health applications, and developing distance learning programs for behavioral health.  - See more at: http://attcniatx.blogspot.com/2014/10/is-big-data-watching-you_15.html#more
Kimberly Johnson, NIATx Deputy Director and ATTC Network Coordinating Office Co-Director served for seven years as the director of the Office of Substance Abuse in Maine. She has also served as an executive director for a treatment agency, managed intervention and prevention programs, and has worked as a child and family therapist. She joined NIATx in 2007 to lead the ACTION Campaign, a national initiative to increase access to and retention in treatment. She is currently involved in projects with the ATTC Network and NIATx that focus on increasing implementation of evidence-based practices, testing mobile health applications, and developing distance learning programs for behavioral health.  - See more at: http://attcniatx.blogspot.com/2014/10/is-big-data-watching-you_15.html#more
Kimberly Johnson, NIATx Deputy Director and ATTC Network Coordinating Office Co-Director served for seven years as the director of the Office of Substance Abuse in Maine. She has also served as an executive director for a treatment agency, managed intervention and prevention programs, and has worked as a child and family therapist. She joined NIATx in 2007 to lead the ACTION Campaign, a national initiative to increase access to and retention in treatment. She is currently involved in projects with the ATTC Network and NIATx that focus on increasing implementation of evidence-based practices, testing mobile health applications, and developing distance learning programs for behavioral health.  - See more at: http://attcniatx.blogspot.com/2014/10/is-big-data-watching-you_15.html#more

2 comments:

  1. Timely article. Technology will always have its limitations. We are focusing on population health / SUD tools to improve access to services beyond the practice walls in DC. We have hosting a series of panel discussions in Dec and it would be great to share your perspective if possible. Can we discuss further? Regards, Larry Gourdine larry3626@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete
  2. Sure, Larry, I would be happy to talk to you about it. I'll send you an email with my phone number.

    ReplyDelete