Advocate Aurora Research Institute is one of just three sites to initially join a clinical trial studying an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered telehealth platform designed to analyze a patient’s words, voice and facial expressions to detect signs of mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.
Declining mental health is a deepening crisis in the U.S. Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, one in five adult Americans reported mental illness. Episodes of anxiety and depression have increased up to four-fold during the pandemic, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The mental health crisis is particularly acute here in Wisconsin, with a well-documented shortage of practicing psychiatrists and mental health services,” said Mindy Waite, PhD, research scientist with Advocate Aurora Research Institute’s Ed Howe Center for Health Care Transformation and Aurora Behavioral Health Services and principal investigator for the study. “And in Milwaukee the crisis disproportionately affects Black and Brown communities.”
Black residents in Milwaukee County account for 47.5% of users of mental health services, despite making up just 27.2% of the population, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services and the U.S. Census Bureau.
“Scientists are researching whether new technologies can help screen for depression symptoms that may then lead to more accessible and timely mental health services,” said Michelle Simpson, PhD, RN, Director of the Howe Center.
The patent-pending technology that’s being evaluated in the study was developed by AI company aiberry, the study sponsor. The AI system takes a video of a patient during their interview with a mental health professional and analyzes multiple data channels – video, audio and speech content – both separately and in combination, to extract patterns specific to a particular mental health disorder. The system then assigns a score showing the likelihood the patient has a particular mental disorder.
“The aiberry platform is the result of more than a decade of research by our Chief Scientist Dr. Newton Howard, one of today’s foremost experts in computational and cognitive neurosciences, and his collaborators,” said Sangit Rawlley, aiberry’s President and Cofounder.
The clinical trial aims to train and validate the aiberry platform’s ability to detect depression in a diverse patient population. People who participate in the study will complete depression screenings and record a video interview. Researchers plan to enroll 1,000 participants ages 13 to 79 in the study.
“We are thrilled to have Advocate Aurora Health and Advocate Aurora Research Institute as one of our strategic partners in this multisite study,” Rawlley said. “Advocate Aurora’s focus on increasing effectiveness and access to mental health solutions by integrating mental health in a primary care setting is well aligned with aiberry’s vision.”
Researchers also aim to study the technology’s capability of assisting with the diagnosis of other mental health conditions.