We are starting our great adventure with artificial intelligence, says psychiatrist

Credit: Adobe Stock
Credit: Adobe Stock

We are starting a great adventure with artificial intelligence, says psychiatrist Maciej Pilecki. The University Hospital in Kraków, in collaboration with engineers, started working on the innovative system Mentalio, intended to help treat children and adolescents with mental problems faster and better.

'We have just started our work. It is a great adventure for us. Psychiatrists, who are both biologists and humanists, meet computer scientists and talk about patients, about treatment, about the things that will be useful in the treatment,’ says Dr. Pilecki, head of the Clinical Department of Adult, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University Hospital in Kraków.

According to the hospital, the Mentalio project is one of the first of its kind in the world. It is expected to help to better, faster diagnose and treat children and adolescents with mental disorders. The final decision, however, will not be made by the machine, but by a doctor.

As part of the project, which is a clinical trial, the hospital team will develop questionnaires for 1,500 patients aged 13-21, their parents and specialists. After entering data from surveys, the Mentalio system will suggest probable diagnoses to the doctor, along with recommendations for further treatment. The artificial intelligence algorithm itself is to be based on the technology of learning and identifying similarities. This will help draw conclusions despite the often incomplete sets of information provided by patients and their caregivers, who are not always sure of their feelings.

The project will continue until the end of 2025 in a consortium with Nivalit, in consultation with scientists from the Jagiellonian University Medical College and the AGH University of Science and Technology.

The algorithms developed thanks to the Mentalio system will be used primarily by doctors, but it will also help school counsellors and parents. Dr. Pilecki adds that the system will not replace doctors making the diagnosis, but - just like car navigation guides the driver, informs about obstacles on the road and shows different routes - it will help determine what decisions the doctor should make regarding further diagnosis and therapy.

'Artificial intelligence can offer a significant support, but I don't think it will replace a doctor, and even if does, psychiatry will be the last specialization replaced by a machine,’ says Dr. Maciej Pilecki. He justifies it by saying that in psychiatry, the emotional relationship between the doctor and the patient is extremely important. 'This part will not be eliminated in the foreseeable future, but I think we will increasingly use all sorts of clinical decision support systems,’ he says.

When asked about the role of artificial intelligence in overcoming the barrier in the relationship with the doctor, caused, for example, by the patient's shame, he says that there are people who will find it easier to answer questions in a computer questionnaire than during a conversation with a clinician. 'But that is why we do it in a clinical institution affiliated with the university, to see the safety of such a system, how it will work, how it will affect our practice,’ he adds.

There are about 540 child and adolescent psychiatrists in Poland, and only some of them work in public health care. According to the Supreme Medical Chamber, this number should be at least tripled. A dozen to several tens of thousands of mental health specialists deal with the mental health of children and adolescents.

Around 80% of patients of first level of referentiality clinics (where helping with therapy begins without a preliminary psychiatric consultation) have suicidal thoughts.

According to the data from the project partners, about 1 million children and adolescents aged 13-21 are in the health care system, but in reality several times more people in this group may need help.

The Mentalio project is funded by the Polish Medical Research Agency. (PAP)

PAP - Science in Poland, Beata Kołodziej

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