How can digital bridge the mental health gaps?

Thomas Brenzikofer
Thomas Brenzikofer

BaselArea.Swiss

21.02.2020

How can digital bridge the mental health gaps?

Mental health is a story of gaps. This was made clear by all the speakers and panellists at DayOne’s most recent Expert Meeting titled “Measuring the Unmeasurable - will digital pave the way for new treatments in mental health?” which took place in Basel. And there was the consensus among the 100 plus healthcare innovators in the room that digital technologies are very much suited to providing at least the bricks to build the pillars of the bridge over these gaps:

1) The investment gap:

Of the trillions of dollars invested in the research and development of new therapeutics over the last decade, less than one percent has flowed into the area of mental health, representing a decrease of 70 percent. On the other hand, estimates suggest the global cost of mental health conditions will rise from 2.5 trillion dollars in 2010 to 6 trillion in the next ten years. This mismatch has a simple reason: there is no such thing as low-hanging fruit when it comes to curing mental health disorders, and the complexity of the issue has turned off both investors and entrepreneurs.

What can digital do? The evolving field of mental health markers and digital phenotyping will allow for more evidence-based approaches, providing for a better understanding of the disease spectrum and also enabling the outcomes of new treatments to be measured. This will eventually attract new investments and the market entry of new players to challenge the established industry.

2) The provision gap

Patients having to live with mental health disorders far exceed the capacity for treating them. This is true not only in low and middle-income countries (not to speak of crisis areas), but also in wealthy nations. This mismatch is not expected to change, as mental health issues are on the rise, especially among young adults and in the aging population, which is leading to an increase in both costs and the human burden.  

What can digital do? The introduction of novel online tools for diagnostics, disease management and treatment is more scalable and cost-efficient than traditional face-to-face therapy. However, ethical concerns may arise regarding their proper validation and the right to human-based treatment. Therefore, a blend of online and offline treatment will most likely be the way to go – at least in high-income countries.

3) The translational gap

We have been witnessing huge progress in our understanding of mental health disorders, gaining ever better knowledge of how our brain it triggers behaviour. Unlike in other areas of science, these results have a hard time in finding their way into novel treatments for patients. Stigmatization and the prevalence of traditional, moralist and even religious thinking may be a reason for that. But it is clear that the mental health area does not attract enough players with an entrepreneurial spirit.

What can digital do? With new generations to come (the aging of baby boomers and generation X to the digital natives), the stigmatization issue of mental health will probably decrease, opening up a new and growing market. Tapping into this new field will require a shift in mindset. Where applications nowadays mostly copy the status quo and are measured against the current gold standard, future digital mental health solutions might form a new category of their own. However, implementing these more fundamental changes, will require early adoption and trust on the part of patients. Patient centricity will therefore be a key building block for innovation in mental health. 

Thank you to all the speakers for brilliantly sharing their insights and thoughts on this very important topic:

Prof. Dr. Gunther Meinlschmidt, Research Director, Dept. of Psychosomatic Medicine, University Hospital Basel

Farina Schurzfeld, CMO and Co-Founder Selfapy, Berlin

Nuria Pastor Hernández, CEO and Founder Humanitcare, Barcelona

Christian Vogler, CEO and Founder Advancience, Basel

Bear O. O. Matthews, Astra Labs, San Francisco

And take a look at the slides presented during the event here

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