PodcastsJune 29, 2019

The AI chatbot app helping people get the mental health services they need


Business is Boring is a weekly podcast series presented by The Spinoff in association with Callaghan Innovation. Host Simon Pound speaks with innovators and commentators focused on the future of New Zealand, with the interview available as both audio and a transcribed excerpt. This week he talks to Angela Lim, co-founder and CEO of a free, online mental health platform called Clearhead.

Mental Health is a crisis in this country, and there is welcome news of 1.9 billion of new funding in the latest budget, but right now, services are stretched. Finding the right care, at the right time, is a challenge. Knowing how to navigate the system is a challenge. Even knowing when to reach out for help, and where to do that is hard.

The whole system itself is set up on a reactive model, but as with all health and fitness, preventative and proactive is better than reactive. So how do we do this with mental health care?

Questions like these, and more, have led to today’s guest starting a new venture, creating an AI chatbot that helps to mimic a GP consult, but with the feel of chatting with a knowledgable friend. It helps to increase people’s comfort in sharing information, and sends people to the right places for the assistance they need next. It’s called Clearhead, it’s in market now, and making a difference from the get go. To chat the journey, the need and what’s next, co-founder, CEO and doctor Angela Lim joined the podcast.

Either download this episode (right click and save), have a listen below or via Spotify, subscribe through iTunes (RSS feed) or read on for a transcribed excerpt.

Angela Lim: “It’s an example of healthcare being able to really come into the 21st century. Why is it that there are so many things that we are used to in our day to day lives, for example with Uber, with our online banking… we are able to do what we need to get done at the time in which we want to get them done. Healthcare is very much about the power sitting with the provider, and so you get told when you are going to get seen and it might be at a time that’s inconvenient for you, so it might be at a time, if you think about it, for someone needing to organise multiple child care arrangements. It might be at a time where it’s just before you are going to do a very important presentation at work. You know your schedule best – why is it that you’re not able to ensure that is a part of the process in which you decide when you get to seek the care that is important to you?”

Simon Pound: “And there are very real capacity issues at the moment aren’t there, it’s not that the system has heaps of latency that the people aren’t accessing, there’s a lot of wonderful caring professionals working as hard as they can at an absolute limit aren’t there?”

Lim: “Absolutely. The only reason our health system as a whole is still functioning is because you get the surgeons who come in on the weekend when they’re not actually scheduled to work, to meet our targets that have been set by the government. It is the capacity of the sector to almost exploit the goodwill of practitioners who really, we live by our oath of doing good, and doing no harm. So if you look at mental health specifically, 97% of the budget currently goes to 3% of the population that needs it. So what happens to the other 97% that needs it? I think that is something that we really need to ask ourselves seriously, how we are going to achieve that. And you mentioned, for example, the wellbeing budget and the 1.9 billion that is being invested into mental health over the next four years.

The government should be applauded for very clearly signaling that this is an important priority, but the challenge will be around how that is implemented. So for example, even with the majority of this funding going in to delivery of care, their target is that they want to be able to have 375,000 be able to access mental health care in your primary care setting. If you know the statistics of one in every two New Zealanders will face some sort of mental health challenge in their lifetime, we’re looking at 2.5 million people at some point in their life needing care. So when you talk about 375,000 people, it just doesn’t cut the mustard. So we need to be bold enough to say, ok we have been needing to invest in things that are more scalable, that are more cost-effective, and I think that technology such as ours, using artificial intelligence, allows that to happen.”

Keep going!