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Big Data Boon for Mental Health Services

We’re going to dispense with the clever leads for this story on big data and mental health and throw a few hard facts at you:

Nearly 20 percent of adults—more than 40 million people—in the United States experienced a mental health issue in 2015, according to the National Institutes of Health. The World Health Organization estimates that nearly one in 10 people suffer from anxiety or depression—an estimated 676 million people around the globe. Nearly a million people worldwide die by suicide every year, which is the second-leading cause of death for those age 15 to 29.

We could go on, but you get the idea: The world can be an unhappy place, and many people are without the resources they need, while health-care systems simply can’t cope under the crush of cases using current paradigms.

Technology to the rescue once again? We’re not that flippant, but we do see a lot of technology startups receiving attention and respectable funding in the field of mental health. We covered one aspect of this when we highlighted companies developing artificial intelligence platforms capable of diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease in its early stages. In the broader mental health services, many startups provide a mobile technology solution while others apply big data and machine learning to the challenges of diagnosing and treating mental illness. Let’s take a look at three of the players in the latter category.

Mental Health Facts. Credit: National Alliance on Mental Health.

Mental Health Facts. Credit: National Alliance on Mental Health.

Quartet

New York-based Quartet has a small army of data scientists and engineers who have used big data to develop algorithms that help doctors identify whether a physical health condition also has a mental health component. In April 2016, Quartet raised a $40 million Series B, led by GV (formerly Google Ventures), to go along with $7 million Series A in March 2016, led Oak HC/FT Partners (which also kicked in capital in Series B). TechCrunch noted that this is the first time GV has invested in a mental health startup.

Arun Gupta founded Quartet in 2014. A healthcare-focused private equity investor, Gupta also served as an advisor to Palantir Technologies, a private big data company worth about $20 billion. (We’re still waiting to see if Palantir will be the first big data company to go IPO.)

A bit more about Quartet’s platform: If the algorithms flag a patient for a possible mental health issue, that person gets a referral to a provider in the company’s network or to its online cognitive behavioral therapy tools, according to the TechCrunch article. The platform enables integration of a patient’s treatment, including consultations and medications. Fortune featured Quartet last year, quoting the company saying that it provides service to over a million patients, in terms of those covered by health systems and insurers that contract with the company. Changes in U.S. law in recent years have encouraged insurance companies to increase coverage for mental health conditions, making companies like Quartet an attractive solution to insurance companies looking to add services for its members.

Quartet has already partnered with a number of insurers, including Highmark, Inc, Premera Blue Cross Steward Health Care Network and Lahey Health. The company reported on its year-end blog post that its team more than doubled in size, forcing it to relocate its New York headquarters.

Quartet’s mission is not just about making money but bridging the gap in mental and physical health services—a goal with potentially big economic impacts. One stat that Quartet likes to toss out in its press releases: Between $26.3 billion and $48.3 billion could be cut from the total cost of health care annually through effective integration of medical and behavioral health services, according to a 2014 study by New York City-based consultant Milliman Inc., which was prepared for the American Psychiatric Association.

Lyra Health

Lyra Health is another startup where big data promises to help patients find the mental health care they need. Backed by $38.1 million in funding from two rounds in 2015, Lyra Health is developing a “data-driven platform to identify people at risk of behavioral and mental health.”

Credit: Lyra Health

Credit: Lyra Health

It’s probably worth a moment to note a few of the individuals on Lyra Health leadership team. At the top of the org chart is David Ebersman, former chief financial officer at Facebook and Genentech. Venture capitalists Bob Kocher and Bryan Roberts with Venrock, which was involved in the $3.1 million Seed round and again in the $35 million Series A, are also co-founders. Rounding out the group is Dena Bravata, Lyra’s chief medical officer.

Lyra’s screening tools will initially focus on people with potential problems with depression, anxiety or substance abuse, Ebersman told the Wall Street Journal. “The availability of technology, our ability to use data, do analytics on large messy data sets, and to easily build software tools for patients and physicians, I think is really enabling us to make the system work better for patients,” he said during the interview.

Castlight Health, Inc., which provides cost estimates for healthcare tests and procedures, is among Lyra Health’s early allies, investing $3 million in the startup, Forbes reported. That’s not too surprising. Ebersman sits on the board of Castlight Health and Roberts is the chairman of Castlight Health, which trades on the NASDAQ as CSLT. Hopefully Lyra Health fares better than Castlight, which less than three years after its IPO, is trading at about 10 percent of its initial value.

Ginger.io

Ginger.io is the veteran of the three companies featured here, founded in 2011 and based in San Francisco. Total funding to date is $28.2 million, with the latest round, a $20 million Series B, coming in December 2014 and led by Kaiser Permanente Ventures.

Ginger.io seems to offer the classic story of an academic spinoff that became a commercial startup. Its origin story begins at MIT Media Lab’s Human Dynamics research group, led by professor Sandy Pentland, where researchers applied mobile sensing to develop big data sets to create predictive models on mental health.

Ginger.io co-founder and CEO Anmol Madan wrote about the company’s development in the Huffington Post: “We have been able to screen more than half a million people with anxiety and depression, and have gathered more than 600 million hours of data from them across many behavioral dimensions. Such a large and rich data set allows us to use machine learning to detect complex patterns of behaviors that predict when a user may need help.”

Last year, the company set a new course when it entered the increasingly crowded marketplace of mental health apps, offering direct counseling services through paid subscriptions starting at $129 for unlimited chat with “coaches” and personalized care plans.

“Tech by itself only goes so far,” Madan told FastCompany of the new business model. “We believe that access to high-quality emotional and mental health care should be a human right. We didn’t feel we could achieve that simply by being a technology vendor.”

What do you think? Is there an app for mental health or is this another fad of pop psychology? If there’s interest, we’ll delve further into the mobile tech sector in a future post.

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