Editor’s Note: Dr. Thomas R. lnsel, Co-Founder & President of Mindstrong Health, and former Director of the National Institute of Mental Health, is a keynote speaker at this year’s Oliver Wyman Health Innovation Summit. Tom is a psychiatrist, neuroscientist, former Professor of Psychiatry at Emory University, and previously a leader of Verily’s Mental Health Team. We recently sat down with Tom to learn more about how Mindstrong Health is using patients’ smartphone keyboard data to advance mental health treatment.
Q: Where does “mental health” sit in the greater healthcare spectrum?
Dr. Thomas Insel: The mental healthcare system is so badly broken, it doesn’t even qualify as a system. Ten million people in the United States have a serious mental illness like schizophrenia but very few receive consistent, coordinated care. Even more prevalent are disorders like depression or anxiety. Most people with depression or an anxiety disorder get a prescription from their primary care physician and are told to come back in four weeks. That’s not quality healthcare for someone with a brain disorder.
It’s important to understand that we spend a huge amount of money on mental healthcare – now over $200 billion each year – because we don’t do it well. We have effective, relatively inexpensive treatments including psychosocial treatments on which we spend too little while we spend way too much on hospitalization, emergency room visits, and late-stage care of co-morbid medical conditions. Most of our psychiatric treatments, whether medical or psychosocial, are given late in the course of a chronic disorder, usually precipitated by a crisis, which is the most costly way to manage these very treatable conditions.
Q: Where does mental healthcare sit in the spectrum of medical care?
Dr. Thomas Insel: Much of medicine has moved toward more precise, specialized care. Think about diabetes with real-time blood glucose measurement and management, or oncology where understanding of oncogenomics has resulted in targeted therapies. We are just beginning to realize this possibility in mental healthcare. With the ability to passively, objectively measure brain function, we will be positioned to detect deterioration in cognition and intervene early, before a potential relapse escalates, and we will be able to assess the efficacy of interventions, such as drug response.