The power of the human voice is clear. It can move us to laugh, cry, and be moved to anger or joy. As a uniquely human innovation, voice is our primary mode of communication, conveying externally our emotions and thoughts. We experience it everyday in our interactions with other people, giving us the ability to register when someone is not feeling well, or if they are having a good or a bad day. This powerful tool is now being harnessed as a mental health vital sign. Ellipsis Health is able to utilize a short voice sample and, in real-time, determine an individual’s severity level of stress, anxiety, and depression.
Why is this important?
First, despite the recent anti-stigma campaigns and education surrounding mental health, stigma is still pervasive and detrimental to people we know and love. There is much work left to be done in this space. By applying science and data from vocal biomarkers to determine a person’s mental health status, just like we use a cuff to determine blood pressure or a scale to determine weight, we are able to objectively measure mental health. This small, simple change in language and thinking can lead to a seismic impact. Unfortunately, society places less judgment on diseases that have clear biological vital signs. It’s time for a paradigm shift in mental health, and this involves using science and data to drive the conversation around mental health squarely into the health category.
The second reason that voice as a vital sign is critically important is that it offers a more equitable pathway for providing care to individuals with mental health needs, no matter their identity, background, or education level. Social determinants of health often affect who gets screened for mental health issues accurately and who is not screened at all. It takes 11 years on average for an individual to be identified as having anxiety or depression. That is 11 years of personal suffering, 11 years of family and friends wishing they could better provide support, 11 years of vocational challenges due to unmanaged symptoms, 11 years that do not have to happen. When we take mental health as seriously as our physical health, we will regularly get our mental health vital signs taken and our doctor will respond as they would to any other vital sign, recommending appropriate treatment as soon as a vital sign is elevated.
A third reason the use of vital signs in mental health is so pivotal is that it allows for a better standard of care. It enables a care team to measure the reduction in symptoms, indicating that a person is getting better, and also allows them to identify individuals who are not getting better with prescribed treatment. This process is called Measurement Based Care (MBC) in the mental health field, which is bolstered by decades of research supporting the regular use of reliable and valid symptom measurement to aid clinicians in making data-driven decisions for better outcomes. Though this concept is well researched, surprisingly, only a handful of practitioners utilize these tools. The use of human voice, which naturally occurs in every clinical interaction, can easily be introduced as a tool to support MBC, and help providers achieve the Quadruple Aim, an approach to optimize health system performance by improving the patient care experience, advancing population health, reducing per capita costs and improving the health team experience. All health systems work toward these goals and should be implementing scalable tools and technologies to help achieve them.
Collectively, we can do better. This starts with better identification of individuals who are suffering with depression and anxiety, the two most common mental health disorders. It involves improving how we treat individuals with depression and anxiety so that they have quick and reliable symptom reduction and helping those with persistent mental health disorders manage their condition to live the most meaningful life possible. We can do better at reducing the overall cost of healthcare by getting people the right services at the right time. It also means we must deliver better healthcare experiences, and help people who are suffering to have hope that treatment and recovery are possible. And finally, we have to do a better job of keeping practitioners happy with their work, and give them a clear understanding of how they are supporting their patients.
As a former provider and a leader at a mental health provider system, I know how important it is to open ourselves to new pathways and technologies so that we can do better. Most providers are simply doing the best they can and so was I, until I realized that I could deliver better care by simply employing existing tools, technologies, and research to truly improve results. I learned about Measurement Based Care, as well as the technologies that would make it easier to deploy, and then spearheaded these implementations in my organization. Leading the change was actually incredibly rewarding and fun.
Technology is the future of mental health screening and treatment – it has to be, there are simply not enough resources and professionals to meet the growing need. Is this the Jetsons or Star Trek? I often hear variations of these questions from my network when I tell them about the cutting-edge technology that I am working with. I answer, “yes, many things from those previously seemingly far out shows are now a reality and so is this!” Like all new innovations in healthcare, the technology should be vetted and be of sufficient quality so that we are making clinical decisions based on accurate data. The rigor with which we create new technologies is important as these new tools can – and absolutely must be – better than the current status quo. In five years when vocal biomarkers are commonly used as a standard of care in mental health, I’m excited to look back and appreciate how far we’ve come.
By Michelle Hoy, Vice President Clinical Operations, Ellipsis Health
Michelle Hoy, LPC, CAS is the Vice President of Clinical Operations. She is a psychotherapist with expertise in mental health and substance use disorders. Michelle has over 25 years of experience in the behavioral health field. She has deep experience in leadership of provider organizations and leading change initiatives. Michelle has led teams to win 2 prestigious national awards, one for innovation from The National Council for Mental Wellbeing and the other for patient engagement and innovation from the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.
Michelle has always been passionate about helping others in need and has used that passion to focus on the use of technology in healthcare to create more access and better care for those in Need.
Michelle earned her M.A. in Community Counseling at Adams State University in Alamosa, Co. Michelle enjoys life in rural western Colorado near Grand Junction, spending time with her husband, son and furry family members as well as riding motorcycles, racing, photography and reading.