<< Back

Behavioral Health Network Explores New Possibilities in Digital Psychiatry

March 09, 2020

Just as technology augments a surgeon’s ability to precisely place a new hip joint and expands the field of view for a radiologist scanning films for signs of cancer, software and other advances touch the field of behavioral health in impressive and patient-centric ways.

Dr. Manu Sharma, a staff psychiatrist at Backus Hospital and part of the Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network’s Digital Psychiatry Interest Group (DPIG), said finding ways to incorporate the latest technological advances into daily clinical practice is key to offering patients the best possible care.

Keenly interested in how technology, specifically artificial intelligence (AI) and digital phenotyping, can help people with mental illness, Dr. Sharma and the DPIG signed on to mentor two startup companies through the accelerator program Digital Health CT — see hashtag logo in photo above — a collaboration between Startup Bootcamp, Hartford HealthCare, the University of Connecticut and Trinity College.

The companies and their projects are:

  • Companion MX, a mobile app that uses AI algorithms to quantify symptoms of depression and anxiety. The system actively monitors the patient’s voice and passively monitors other smart phone metadata to produce acoustic and behavioral biomarkers that can predict core symptoms of mood and anxiety disorders.

“This is digital phenotyping that tracks your movement, the (phone) messages and calls that you’re getting and sending, and then creates a score,” Dr. Sharma said, explaining that the score reflects some of the core symptoms of depression such as lack of energy and social isolation. “The voice samples are analyzed using natural language processing algorithms which can detect depression and anxiety symptoms.”

The score can remotely track patient anxiety and depression, help providers design interventions to target patients in crisis, help reduce inpatient hospitalizations and improve treatment outcomes

“It has the potential to improve therapy sessions as well by giving the therapist objective data points to engage with the patient about,” Dr. Sharma said. “This can increase patient satisfaction and engagement in their treatment.”

The software can also help bridge the gap between primary care and mental health care. With a shortage of behavioral health specialists, Companion MX can give the right clinical information to primary care doctors so they can help their patients with depression, Dr. Sharma added.

  • Ellipsis Health, which taps AI and natural language processing to analyze natural conversation and generate what it calls “a behavioral health vital sign” to improve behavioral healthcare. The product gives providers a tool to screen patients for depression, anxiety and other behavioral health issues by monitoring their voice patterns and content.

“We traditionally use paper and pen screening tests like PHQ9 to capture patient’s subjective report of symptoms” Dr. Sharma said. “This app has the potential to replace these traditional tests and provide biologically-based objective screening tools”

He is currently working with Ellipsis on launching a research project at Backus that would enroll patients with a diagnosis of anxiety or depression with an aim to refine their algorithm and allow providers to predict Hamilton Depression Rating scores by listening to a two-minute natural speech sample.

Dr. Sharma also noted that the DPIG is exploring opportunities with multiple technological companies, in the United States and abroad, that have the potential to improve patient care and outcomes.

“It’s hard to overstate how important this work is,” said Dr. John Santopietro, senior vice president of Hartford HealthCare and physician-in-chief of the Behavioral Health Network. “The challenges we face in providing access to excellent care for all of our patients in behavioral health are substantial, even insurmountable at times.

“The work that Dr. Sharma is leading so skillfully is not only exciting because it’s innovative, it is quite literally work that will improve and save lives.”

For more information on Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network, click here.