The role of data science and technology in mental health treatment

At the 2019 MIT Space2 workshop, TechRepublic Senior Writer Teena Maddox spoke with Valera Health’s Thomas Tsang about how Valera Health uses technology to triage patients to determine which level of care is necessary for patients requiring behavioral and mental health treatment. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.

Teena Maddox: Tell me about how technology and healthcare can go together.

Thomas Tsang: We’re really at a pivotal moment now that we have this convergence of data science and technology being applied in promoting and supporting good health and optimal health. One of the areas that we’re working on is… in the area of mental health and behavioral health, is we don’t have enough providers in the system. We’re missing 10,000 psychiatrists, and we’re missing tens of thousands of therapists and psychologists as well. And yet, what we’re seeing is that people are waiting three months to see someone, and sometimes, in certain markets, finding a new psychiatrist is actually almost impossible.

So what we’re doing is actually using technology to actually expand and amplify the touch and the reach of a psychiatrist by using technology to make things more efficient. So understanding how a patient feels, and also giving digital cognitive behavioral therapy sessions that a patient is actually self-directed in, at home, they’re going through the exercise of understanding educational content, that in itself really amplifies the amount of patients that a psychiatrist can touch.

Number two is, monitoring and stratifying and segmenting who should get what therapy is also a great way to understand, you know, finding the right care for the right patient. For example, what we’re finding in real life is that not everyone needs to see a psychiatrist, so part of the people who are waiting for a visit, they need a lower level of care, but yet there is a small percentage who needs a higher level of care. So how do we actually triage and understand the needs of these patients? Again, using technology, we can understand what your needs are, and then finding and matching you to the right level of care. That’s really helping the ecosystem at large.

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Other ways is, right now Valera’s using passive data from your smartphone, such as geolocation, activity, and even the amount of light you’ve been exposed to, and using that passive data, with the patient’s consent, to actually helping them manage their disease, and giving signals and alerts to the care team in terms of how the patient is doing, whether the patient’s deteriorating, and actually intervene before the patient actually hits a level where they need to be hospitalized. So again, understanding these alerts, predicting what can happen, and finding the best treatment. So all these different ways we can actually use technology to make it far more efficient and far more accessible.

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