Real Time Communications Featured Article

WebRTC Enrolled for Suicide Prevention

June 11, 2015

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), more than 40,000 Americans will take their own lives this year.  A real time communications (RTC) solution to combat the problem is going into clinical trials later this summer, tapping into the power of GENBAND Kandy to provide a 24x7 professional lifeline for at risk patients.

The MindMe platform and application have been under construction for about a year by the TelePsych Alliance, a collaborative partnership between New York Presbyterian/Cornell Medical College, Burke Medical Research Institute and Interlecta Mobile Innovations. Live demonstrations of MindMe are being presented this week at WebRTC World.

"We're really excited about this idea," said Dr. David Putrino, Director of Telemedicine and Virtual Rehabilitation at Burke Medical Research Institute. “The majority of individuals with a mental health issue can only access therapy services once per month: that’s not adequate”  By the time a patient comes back next month, you're putting out fires and getting back to the level they were at the last time they came in, they're not moving forward."

MindMe is an application that starts with a foundation of a "companion" for an individual who needs care. It takes the wisdom of the treating therapist and puts it into the hands of the patient.  If the user finds they are in distress, he or she can pull up the app and start going through a question/response series to assess their emotions and thoughts. The application then moves onto approved strategies for addressing any negative emotions that are being experienced.

"Sometimes it's something simple, a game or other distraction," said Putrino.  "Another strategy is a change of perspective.  We've created a section that allows a therapist to record personalized video messages, something that's been found very effective."

The app and its underlying technologies allow the patient to actively work on issues that have been identified by their therapist.  The app measures the results, adopts the decision tree of choices and suggests more options if needed. 

Everything is encrypted and logged, providing the therapist with information that can be used to promote an ongoing, continuous conversation with the user about treatment goals and progress. Unlike other, more generic apps currently available on the market, MindMe is more personalized to the individual needs and triggers of the end-user, because the approach is therapist-driven.

via Shutterstock

In an acute crisis, MindMe suggests that a patient start a live session with a therapist, using WebRTC to connect into a 24 hour x 7 day help line to directly reach out to a professional counselor. 

"It is an unprecedented ability to have a 24/7 connection with a human being [in a telepsych app]," said Putrino. "A common thing that you hear from individuals that have attempted or considered ending their lives, is that the thing that stopped them or caused them to hesitate was timely intervention: contact with someone. It does not matter who you are, you don’t have to be a friend or family – so long as there is someone that can speak to you directly, and give you the attention and sensitivity you need at that moment."

MindMe's first supervised clinical trial will start this summer. Anywhere from 20 to 30 people will participate for six months to formally test and evaluate the effectiveness of the application.

"We have to get the science right," said Frank Fleming, co-founder of Interlecta. "We want to get that completely in order and approved, then explore what is a deep need to address a community that may not be able to reach out to a therapist or counselor." 

Once MindMe is clinically proven for depression, the Telepsych Alliance is excited to clinically validate similar applications for other conditions, including options for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety disorders, addiction, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).   

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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