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Disruptive Technology in Mental Health Care: Panel Highlights from Emerging Researchers 

 

During an afternoon session on the future of technology in the mental health care sector, four healthcare leaderdescribed future opportunities and risks: Amos Adler (Founder, MEMOTEXT), Ronen Benin (Co-founder & CEO, Avail), Christine Zhu (Senior Product Manager, Elizz) and Shahira Bhimani (Director, MaRS EXCITE). 

Tianjiao Xu, PhD student at Ivey Business School, describes session highlights. 

 

Session panelists said that technology advances in mental health care have been slow compared to other industries – including physical health careBut the pace of change is beginning to accelerateFor example, mobile apps, like Avail, monitor changes in mood, energy, stress and sleep quality and suggest personalized resources to improve well-beingMachine learning technologies, such as those deployed by App4Independence, can help patients living with schizophrenia to connect with peers and clinicians and can generate predictive insights that improve treatment. 

They identified opportunities and risks in the emerging area of mental health care technology. 

 

Opportunities  

Radical innovation: In well-established industries, innovation tends to be incremental – small improvements to proven products. An emergent industry, like mental health care technology, offers the opportunity for radical, ground-breaking innovations. For instance, applications that allow for long-distance diagnosis and treatment have drastically changed health care in remote communities.  

Radical innovations, however, have a higher risk of failure than their incremental counterparts. Often, managers, entrepreneurs, investors and policy makers favor projects with more certain payoffs. This risk aversion could lead to under-investment in the technologies with the greatest potential for positive impact. Panelists are already experiencing challenges moving radical technologies from the pilot phase to widespread adoption. They urged businesses, investors and government leaders change conservative attitudes toward risk and capitalize on the potential for significant societal impact.  

Customer collaboration: Emerging industries also offer a unique opportunity for demand-pull innovation – meaning innovation driven by customer demand. Leaders should strongly consider integrating customers in the innovation process, to ensure the resulting technology better satisfies user needs.   

Business techniques: There several business best practices that can help firms as they create and commercialize radical mental health care technologies. Here are a few examples:  

  • Business-to-business innovation partnerships can encourage continuous development of cutting edge technologies due to the sharing of knowledge, information and financial and human resources. They also lower R&D costs per firm through cost sharing.  
  • Maintaining an agile (horizontal organizational structure gives firms the ability to perceive and respond to to evolving market conditions and customer needs.  
  • Digital platforms, including social media, can foster network stakeholders with common interests. These networks make it more effiecient to raise awareness about new products and receive customer feedback.  

 

Risks 

Data protection: Concerns around privacy and the collection, storage and use of personal data have been major inhibitors for the commercialization of mental health technologies. Panelists advised health care leaders to adopt diligent protocols that ensure the safe storage and use of private data. For example, technologies can de-identify personal data and give users the right to withdraw their information anytime. These safe guards should be clearly communicated to patients, for example, through confidentiality agreements. 

Personal interaction: If deployed effectively, technology can provide improved patient support and re-distribute clinical resources. For example, individuals with less severe conditions may require less time in clinic, freeing more clinician time to treat severe cases. Technology should not, however, become a complete substitute for clinical treatment. In some cases, this can actually cause symptoms to worsen. 

Stigma: Mental health issues have long been associated with a stigma that does not plague physical health issues. The media tend to associate people with mental health conditions with negative characteristics and portray them as dangerous and unpredictable. As a result, those struggling with mental health can be reluctant to pursue diagnosis and treatment, fearing social ostracism.  

Panelists urged business and government leaders to address this problem by educating the general public on the ubiquity of mental health problems and the channels to seek help. Changing social narratives is a slow process, but over time, these educational programs are effective and can create a more open environment for developing and deploying treatment solutions.  

In conclusion, the emergent nature of mental health technology offers much promise for radically improved patient care. To realize this promise, leaders must work closely with patients to ensure their needs shape the development and use of new technologies. They must also continue to change mindsets, reducing social stigma and increasing tolerance for the risk associated with radical innovation. If we can do this, mental health technologies will have a positive impact on our society.  

 

 

About the author 

My name is Tianjiao (Chloe) Xu and I am a fourth year PhD candidate at Ivey Business School, Western University. My main area of research is Entrepreneurship but I am also interested in related fields such as Strategic Management and Organizational Theory.  

Steeped in the Chinese culture for years, I am familiar with the language, history, traditions and business environment of one of the world’s largest and fastest growing economy. Having immigrated to Canada during adolescence, I am also heavily influenced by the thinking of western societies. As I advance my studies, I find passion in entrepreneurship related research as it is a blooming area both practically and theoretically. In particular, I wish to utilize my Chinese background and contribute to the field by studying how entrepreneurs start ventures in the Chinese context.