British mental health startup Ieso Digital Health today announced a new research project dubbed Eight Billion Minds, which aims to use the data from its platform to build an autonomous digital therapeutic. The new effort will be specifically focused on creating a platform to tackle the shortage of mental health professionals globally.
Ieso’s signature product, ThinkWell, is a mental health platform that links patients to counselors for text-based cognitive behavioral therapy.
“Because we have done this for a very long time, we have treated more than 30,000 patients and have accumulated a data set of more than 200,000 sessions of therapy,” Valentin Tablan, SVP of artificial intelligence at Ieso Digital Health, told MobiHealthNews. “Originally we kept the transcripts of the therapy sessions because they are very useful for the patient. … But because we have been keeping the messages, we ended up with this very large data set after a few years of working. Now we are looking at how we can use this data set to improve clinical outcomes for patients.”
As opposed to its previous platform, the new research project will be focused on creating tools that don’t need a person on the other end.
“This is truly a global-looking ambition that we have. There are territories that are severely underserved. Half of the countries have fewer than four mental health practitioners per 100,000. Even in England — England is probably one of the countries with the best mental health services in the world. Even they are only addressing 19% of the need,” Tablan said. “That is why we are doing this to help people everywhere. It will be a digital intervention. It will be entirely or largely autonomous because that is the only way to scale, and because we believe in science it will be effective. So, we will only put it out there once we’ve found it actually helps patients.
WHY IT MATTERS
The shortage of mental health professionals is an international problem. It is also an often underfunded issue. According to the World Health Organization, low- and middle-income countries reported spending less than $2 per capita on mental health. This crisis has led both innovators, providers and government officials to start considering new care avenues, including digital.
“Although you see a lot has changed in the west, I think globally there are still areas of stigma around mental health,” Lord Darzi said during a press conference in Doha, Qatar last year. “Mental health is no different than physical health, you can address them, you can treat them. It may not be a pill you take over night and your fever disappear; it might be a different type of virtual pill that you can actually talk to someone. Talking is one of the most therapeutic things you can do.”
THE LARGER TREND
This wouldn’t be the first autonomous mental health platform. Last year Woebot landed $8 million in Series A funding for its AI enabled platform. Its customers can use the messaging function on the app — just like using Google Hangouts or Apple's iMessage, but instead of a person at the other end of the messages, it's an artificial intelligence programmed to help users talk through their mental health using cognitive behavioral therapy principles.
Last month London called Bold Health launched its latest product that combines digital tools and cognitive behavioral therapy with the aim of helping patients improve their gut health.
ON THE RECORD
“With the widespread adoption of consumer technology and substantial advances in mental health science we now have an unprecedented opportunity to take the fight to mental illness globally,” Andy Blackwell, group chief science and strategy officer for Ieso Digital Health, said in a statement. “We have demonstrated that taking a data-driven approach to mental healthcare results in better outcomes for patients. Empowered by clinical science and deep learning, we will now use these same data to discover and develop a radical new generation of therapeutic solutions for mental health conditions. This is the role of Eight Billion Minds.”