How data and technology offer patients better mental health treatments

Steven Loeb · July 9, 2018 · Short URL:

Virtual reality and video games are a few of the emerging digital solutions to mental health issues

At Vator and HP's latest salon: SplashX Invent Health: Mental and Behavioral Health, the question about diagnostics was a constant theme. 

Earlier in the night, the panel of healthcare incumbents and tech pioneers, which of consisted of panelists Michael Fitzgerald (Executive Director, Behavioral Health Services, El Camino Hospital), Tom Bjornson (Founder and Chairman, Claremont EAP), Sean McBride (Partnerships, Lyra Health), Walter Greenleaf (Distinguished Visiting Scholar, Stanford University), Don Mordecai (National Leader for Mental and Wellness, Kaiser Permanente), Scott Fillenworth (SVP, Sales, Business Development & Client Success, meQuilibrium) had discussed issues relating to how people are treated, and the fact that diagnostic tools aren;t up to the task of accurately determining if someone has a mental illness. 

Be sure to join us for our next salon focused on Precision Health on September 27.

Toward the end of the night, the panelists again talked about diagnosis in mental health, but this time in terms of how data and technology can be used to help better give people better treatments and interventions. 

"We’re around the corner from doing better assessments and lot of that has to do with new data. We haven’t really touched on data and the new types of data that we’re collecting to help us understand people better," Francisco said, to which Greenleaf responded that "there’s a real revolution going on" in terms of the big tech companies getting into healthcare, which is rapidly changing the space. 

"The continents are colliding. Apple, Google, Samsung, Microsoft, Amazon, they’re all jumping into healthcare. They’re looking at health and wellness but they’re also looking at clinical issues too. Better sensors, machine learning, better analytics, better functional assessments. There’s a big change coming through and it’s happening really fast. I think this will change the landscape here quite a bit as the tech companies jump in, and as consumer start leveraging digital health technology, things are going to change in behavior and mental health very rapidly," he said. 

Fillenworth then spoke about the way his company is using data to determine more factors that have to do with mental illness. 

"Our clients, employer groups principally, are really excited about the data that we collect because it’s data that they haven’t had before. It’s data around mental and emotional makeup, we profile their employees across 18 different resilience factors. Then we can, through reporting and analytics, show them where there are certain risks within their employee populations," he said.

"Obviously using meQuilibrium would help mitigate those risks but they might even go further by designing programs and services and other types of things to actually focus in on certain populations because the data that they’re seeing through the use of our program. Data is definitely huge and it’s a big differentiator for our product because people are really getting a lot of value out of the data."

Greenleaf then decided to "throw one more log on the fire," saying  that technology will also help with making sure that, in the future, interventions in mental health would be more engaging for the patient. 

"I think it’s not just better assessments and analytics and engagement; I think there’s a new wave of interventions coming out too. I’m very excited by what I’ve seen with VR and AR technology, which is addressing some very difficult problems such as post traumatic stress, major depressive disorder, autism and Asperger's. This new wave of technology I think will not just be better at more functional assessments but also more engaging in interventions. That’s using the technology we’re carrying around in our pockets, so I think both assessments and interventions, big changes are happening."

When asked by Francisco to discuss some of those interventions, Greenleaf responded by saying that they have shown results, but mostly in academic settings.  

"Right now it mostly has been validated in university-based clinics and hasn’t migrated to the outside world but we’ve seen interventions that help with some major problems in mental and behavioral health. Also on the health and wellness side. Just for example, interventions that we use virtual reality to, and augmented reality to, help people social, emotional learning by exaggerating body language and facial expressions and having virtual characters have an interaction with them. Or doing exposure therapy to help with post traumatic stress or addictions, teaching situational confidence," he said.

"There’s a number of validated interventions that really haven’t been able to get out into use because of cost and also because we had a social bias, I think, against using a term like virtual reality. But I think that’s behind us now and I think things are coming out and there are a number of startups here in the room that are leveraging VR technology for interventions in mental and behavorial health."

Francisco then brought up the fact that it's more lucrative for doctors to prescribe medications to patients than to take more time to actually spend time with them.

"I heard this statistic, this perverse economic incentive to prescribe prescriptions, where a clinician will get $150 for a 15-minute consultation for prescribing a prescription. They can see five people in an hour versus actually spending time with one person and really doing a good job caring for them. Maybe they could give them VR, maybe they could do something else. But how do we change the mindset to get people used to some of these other services or other solutions that don’t have side effects? When do we get there?" she asked.

"I think one gateway drug to that is combination therapy where we start with combining pharmaceutical and medical device interventions with digital medicine interventions. That’s the transition that I think will be upwardly compatible with the existing business models but will help us get to thinks where we use CBT with some of the digital apps we’ve talked about here in combination with some of the pharmaceuticals and help fill the gap in. In many cases those interventions will be an alternative to the medications but, in other cases they will be complimentary," said Greenleaf.

Thanks to HP and Vator for hosting the event. Thanks to HP for being the main sponsor and thanks to our other sponsors: Avison YoungAdvsrStratpoint and Scrubbed

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