Behavioral Health Network Explores New Possibilities in Digital Psychiatry

Digital Health
Print icon

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.


What's New

BHN Receives Awards for Best HealthCare Marketing, Communications

The New England Society of HealthCare Communications (NESHCo) has recognized BHNews as the top healthcare employee newsletter in all of New England. The weekly electronic employee newsletter received a Gold Award from NESHCo, one of 34 Lamplighter awards received by HHC. Other BHN recognitions included silver awards for MATCH (Medication...


Panic Attack or COVID-19? The Shortness-Of-Breath Link

Shortness of breath is a red-alert symptom associated with COVID-19. It’s also a characteristic of many other conditions, whether it’s asthma, heart issues, pneumonia or even acid reflux. For most of us, the pandemic has become a source of anxiety that, for some, reaches an extreme — a panic attack....

Jeffrey A. Flaks

A Message From Hartford HealthCare CEO Jeffrey Flaks

With the concerns about coronavirus and COVID-19, I want to assure you that Hartford HealthCare is doing everything possible to protect the safety and well-being of the people and the communities we serve, and our team of healthcare providers. Our goal is to be ready and prepared for whatever is...

Recovery Coaches

St. Vincent’s Emergency Department Adds Recovery Coaches

St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport recently became the 21st hospital in Connecticut to incorporate the Emergency Department Recovery Coach (EDRC) program from the Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery (CCAR). The program launch at St. Vincent’s  Emergency Department is the result of collaborative efforts between CCAR, the Cigna Foundation, and...

Emergency Department

He’s Offering A New Kind of Addiction Help in Emergency Department

He’s sitting near the hospital bed, his deep, baritone voice quiet as he listens to a tearful patient details his struggles to stay sober. “My man,” William Dantzler said gently, leaning slightly toward the young man whose cheeks glistened with tears. “Live for you.” The moment was brief at the...

US Surgeon General Visit

Here’s the Surgeon General’s Plan to Fight the Opioid Epidemic

Calling it “the defining issue of our time,” U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, MD, MPH, invited healthcare providers to return to basics when addressing the nation’s opioid epidemic. In Hartford March 2 as part of a presentation co-sponsored by the Hartford Medical Society and Hartford HealthCare (HHC), Dr. Adams said...