APA 'Shark Tank' Takes a Deep Dive Into Mental Health Care Solutions

Pauline Anderson

May 04, 2018

For the second consecutive year, the Innovation Lab, a novel initiative that takes a "shark tank" approach to finding creative solutions to mental health care problems, will be a key feature of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) 2018 annual meeting.

"We are going to be taking a deeper dive and build on the success of last year," Tristan Gorrindo, MD, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, deputy medical director, and director of education at the APA, told Medscape Medical News.

The Innovation Lab, which is part of the longer-running Innovation Zone, will take place Sunday, May 6, from noon to 5 pm.

The event is designed to foster creative solutions to improve the quality of mental health care while providing a venue for innovators to connect with peers, collaborators, and investors.

The Innovation Lab invites participants to pitch their concepts and work collaboratively with experts in computing, design, business, and other areas to refine their ideas.

The revised pitches are then judged by an expert panel. At the end of this process, prizes are awarded in a variety of categories.

2017 Winners, Finalists

Last year's Grand Prize Award for best overall venture went to Jeff Clark, a resident at the University of Washington School of Medicine. He won for his online cognitive-behavioral therapy insomnia program called Slumber Camp.

Calvin Yang, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), won last year's Technology Award, sponsored by Google.

His Psych Vitals idea uses Microsoft Kinect with speech and facial recognition features to collect data and create an automated mental status exam. This, he told organizers, should reduce charting time and improve examination metrics.

An eclectic group that included Patrick Yoo, who has a master's degree in music technology from the New York University and is a medical student, a psychology student, and a PhD candidate in economics, won last year's Audience Choice Award for SafeHear, an alert system for domestic violence.

Muhammad Irfan, MD, head of psychiatry at Peshawar Medical College, Pakistan, won the Human Rights Award for Hope Assist: Telemedicine in Pakistan. The award was for the project that had the greatest humanitarian impact.

Another groundbreaking pitch last year was from Eraka Bath, at UCLA. Bath, who was a finalist last year, made the case for a juvenile justice app to help youth offenders navigate the landscape of the juvenile justice system. Recidivism, she told the award judges, is common among youth, partly because they find it difficult to meet the requirements necessary for getting off probation.

The Innovation Lab provides a platform to turn a good entrepreneurial idea into a successful venture that has a positive impact on patient care.

Another 2017 finalist, April Koh, founder and CEO of Spring, a platform for employee mental wellness, went on to secure significant funding for her venture.

"Spring's mission is to eliminate trial and error in behavioral healthcare and empower providers to make data-driven, personalized decisions for their patients," said Gorrindo.

The success of last year's efforts generated enormous excitement for this year's Innovation Lab. Organizers received 46 submissions. Many of the submissions incorporate technologies such as virtual reality, machine learning, and the "uberizing" of healthcare, Nina Taylor, deputy director of education at the APA, told Medscape Medical News.

She explained that in this context, "uberizing" means advancing healthcare by "taking a look at patients' perspective" and using technologies "in new and unique ways to improve patient care."

The selection of this year's finalists involved a rigorous process, said Taylor. Entrants were required to submit a video that provides background information on themselves and that explains their idea and business plan.

This year's submissions have been whittled down to the following seven:

  • Sensie, a smartphone app that provides tools to help patients identify stresses and assists physicians in tracking patient progress to improve management.

  • A cost-effective, time-saving mobile platform for text-based peer support and small-group therapy moderated by a therapist, with artificial intelligence tools to ensure the safety of the content.

  • Victoria, the first addiction platform targeting mothers-to-be. It provides accessible, personalized trigger management and promises to help reduce healthcare costs and improve the safety of unborn children.

  • An app called Cognova, intended for patients with cognitive impairment. It helps patients reminisce about and explore their past using images, movies, or music. The experience becomes progressively more personalized and should boost engagement and improve quality of life.

  • An immersive multi-app program that uses augmented reality/virtual reality in the clinic or at home to address chronic pain, eating disorders, cognitive deficits, and motor problems, among others.

  • A mental health mobile app called AllyIQ, which targets patients with bipolar disorder. The app helps track symptoms and empowers a support network of friends, family, and clinicians to provide coaching and actionable recommendations.

  • A personalized private digital assistant called PeggyJo that provides customized advice to help boost mood and improve wellness through use of an app, website, or media content.

Audience Participation

Once again, these submissions will be assessed by a panel of experts in the field who will help refine the ideas.

Audience members will also have input. After listening to the pitches, they can rate the idea and presenter and vote for their favorite using their smartphone.

The Grand Prize winner will receive $10,000; the Audience Choice Award winner will receive $2000, and the Human Rights Award winner will receive $1000. The four other finalists will each receive $250.

Also at the Innovation Zone will be cutting-edge talks and presentations on the theme of innovation. A telepsychiatry roundtable, hosted by James (Jay) H. Shore, MD, MPH, associate professor of psychiatry, the University of Colorado, Aurora, will be held in relation to symposia at the meeting.

"We are inviting a number of telepsychiatry companies to come together so that our attendees have an opportunity to test drive some platforms," said Taylor.

"It really goes along with our theme of building through innovation and how you might use this platform to increase access and redesign how you approach practice," he said.

Beyond Fitbit, Apple Watches

Another panel discussion on creative "wearables" will be hosted by John Torous, MD, staff psychiatrist and codirector of the digital psychiatry program at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, Massachusetts.

Torous has a background in electrical engineering and computer science and leads the APA's work group on the evaluation of smartphone apps.

He is actively investigating the potential of mobile mental health technologies for psychiatry. He is developing smartphone tools for clinical research and leads clinical studies of smartphone apps for diverse mental illnesses.

That event promises to go beyond Fitbits and Apple Watches, said Gorrindo.

"There is a deeper sophistication coming out of wearables, looking at things like heart rate variability and using the accelerometers within some of the wearables to detect if your activity level is down, which is symptom of depression," he said.

The possibilities seem endless. For example, a watch-type device can let you know if you've had too much to drink by detecting blood alcohol levels, and head gear can monitor basic EEG profiles, said Gorrindo.

The idea is to measure, in a more sophisticated way at the consumer level, functions that tell people more about themselves, he said.

He gave the example of the use of biofeedback in the treatment of anxiety or mood disorders. In the past, patients would come into the office, be hooked up to sweat sensors and cardiac monitors, and then be trained to exert control over their autonomic functions.

New wearable technology has consumerized this whole area, said Gorrindo.

The Innovation Zone offers attendees a chance to talk about wearables and "what we can expect in the next 1 or 2 years" that might be useful in the clinic, said Gorrindo.

It's fitting that the Innovation Zone takes place in the exhibit hall, as this area represents the interface between business and mental health.

It's a place where attendees can drop in, network, meet rising entrepreneurial stars, brainstorm ideas, and contribute to innovative ventures of the future.

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