5 Insights from the Mental Health Digital Innovation Challenge

Last week, on April 8, 2015, The Digital Mental Health Project, Medstartr.com and Health 2.0 NYC, successfully hosted the Mental Health Digital Innovation Challenge at NYU’s Kaufman Management Center. It was generously sponsored by Dudnyk Healthcare Marketing, Janssen Healthcare Innovation, NYU’s Stern Healthcare Association, Hewlett Packard Haven On Demand and The Digital Mental Health Project.

It was a blast!  (Check out the video on MedStartr.tv now) Attended by over 100 interested parties from a broad cross section of investors, doctors, researchers, activists, entrepreneurs, policy makers, students, etc., the event was lively and informative. I loved that this topic of digital mental health (we could probably shorten it to eMental Health as our EU colleagues do) brought together such a diverse crowd committed to learning and contributing to the forward progress of these applications and their responsible scale up.

The evening kicked off with networking and quickly transitioned to the pitches. 6 judges (See them here: http://bit.ly/1yhRiS2) heard pitches from 6 finalist firms (See them here: http://bit.ly/1Cww1PI) of 27 who applied. The $10,000 Prize winner was Psious, a virtual reality mediated psychotherapy tool for anxiety and PTSD.

Reflecting on this event some days later, there are a number of themes which stick with me from the evening I want to briefly share:

1. Mental Health is a multi-disciplinary, cross functional challenge, needing multidisciplinary cross functional cooperation and coordination to get the best solutions. In my research, I have heard and witnessed that the necessary specialist silos that make up the mental health systems have much room for improved communication and interworking. What I loved about this event was seeing such a variety of silo specialists coming together to exchange interest, ideas, plans, and now action to continue to address digital’s potential to mental health.

2. Digital Health, the legacy of the next generation of health care practitioner-leaders! New York University’s Stern Healthcare Association were very generous in housing this event and thus attracted a number of medical, public health, business and technology studies students. The youthful energy in the room was inspiring and reminded me that the future really does belong to the young. It was an especial joy for me to talk with so many students interested in this topic and to encourage them around the idea that as healthcare practitioners & leaders, digital (mental) health is one of the great & unique legacies of their generation which they must persist to capitalize.

3. Nothing about patients, without patients. Too often I attend digital health events and the presence of patients is underrepresented, for various reasons I will not get into here. That said, it was great to get the presence those who live with mental illness at this event, and even on out judge panel. As you can expect, you get questions and perspectives that a decade of consideration would not reveal to you, when you bring patients into these forum. They are the ultimate benefactors of digital health and I fear that too many solutions on the market have not adequately engaged and empathized with patients in their design and business models. I am glad that we were able to bring these important voices to the table in this forum. (Note: Please forgive me if I offend in the use of the word patient. The mental health community has several terms in dispute from patient to sufferer to consumer, etc.)

4. Digital mental health, has a great potential, threatened by “ shadow elements” of stigma, digital divides, privacy & measurement concerns. When I started this research, I thought it was all about the technology. I have learned that use of the technology is a even more about addressing these elements which are serious rate limiting factors with education, funding, adoption and use, and thus a threat to all the great business models emerging in this area. Every strategy devised in this area must take these elements seriously. Only through all our strategic action, will these threats be minimized and digital mental health’s promise fully realized.

5. The most compelling idea moot without a commercial model. In the course of co-organizing this event, I saw a head-spinning variety and volume of really compelling digital mental health ideas. That said, I was reacquainted with the fact that while creativity is optional, innovation,  the commercialization of creativity, is mandatory. The companies that pitched that evening all did a good job of pitching their idea but at the end of the day the greater challenge was showing how these ideas could attract funding, then customer, then more funding and customers to become a viable business. Our system being as it is, there is little hope of digital mental health reaching the most patients, caregivers & treaters with the most benefit unless we continue to develop and encourage entrepreneurship in this space.

Clearly, this event is one more step in this direction along with others like Health 2.0 Amsterdam’s February 2015 eMental Health Event and the MindTech UK November 2014 , and I am sure there are others.

Thanks all for your support of this event. Let’s stay in touch around how we continue to partner to keep this momentum going within our specialist domains and across the mental health ecosystem. Also, please send over ideas related to how you/we can continue collaborate.

PS: See the event’s tweets at #H2NYC and photos from the event at MedStartr H2NYC Events site.

PPS: If you are interested, here are other links related to the Digital Mental Health Project.

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