McLean Hospital, the largest psychiatric affiliate of Harvard Medical School, recently announced the launch of the Institute for Technology in Psychiatry (ITP), which will harness the enthusiasm for technologies such as smartphones, wearable devices, and tablets to bring more personalized and accessible behavioral and mental health care to individuals globally and advance psychiatric research.
“There is a profound need for leadership in the emerging area of technology-based tools in psychiatry, with huge potential benefits for the field and for our patients,” said Justin T. Baker, MD, PhD, who will serve as the scientific director of the ITP. “The path forward is exciting but complex. It is important that we proceed thoughtfully, focusing on how technology can help address existing real-world problems for our patients and providers, and invest in the long-term vision for how these technologies could and hopefully will change our field for the better.”
According to Baker, the ITP will provide core services to McLean investigators and clinicians who wish to engage in technology-based or “digital mental health” projects. By building a network of partnerships with academic groups and industry groups in the data science and engineering communities, the ITP will streamline the process for local groups to gain access to cutting-edge approaches from the technology sector, while helping them to apply these approaches in ways that protect patient privacy and build upon lessons learned from prior studies. “Innovators from other disciplines and the private sector need clinical partners in mental health to understand what works and what doesn’t,” says Baker, who is currently the director of functional neuroimaging and bioinformatics for McLean’s Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder Research Program and has led several technology-based projects at the hospital. “The goal is to ensure that new approaches are being tested in ways that are grounded in real-world mental health treatment settings.”
The activities of the ITP will be divided between research and clinical care, with research focusing on new ways to quantify normal and abnormal behavior using conventional technologies, such as smartphones and web cams. The researchers will also look to develop standardized strategies for assessing and tracking patients that can be deployed across a broad portfolio of research protocols. The clinical component will initially focus on using digital tools, such as internet-based therapy, telecommunications, and apps, to deliver care and monitor response to currently available treatments.
Scott L. Rauch, MD, president and psychiatrist in chief for McLean and a pioneer in developing and applying new technologies in the fields of psychiatry and neuroscience, will chair the steering committee of the ITP, which includes McLean’s chief scientific officer Kerry J. Ressler MD, PhD. “We are seeking to become a national leader and magnet for innovative partners in industry and academia who want to help us reimagine and transform the field of psychiatry by leveraging the power of emerging technologies,” said Rauch.
In addition to Rauch and Ressler, Laura Germine, PhD, of the Many Brains Project recently signed on to be part of the ITP, with Baker noting that the ITP is bringing together some of the leading minds in technology and science from around the globe to serve as collaborators and advisors. Harnessing their level of expertise and drive to improve the lives of those affected by psychiatric illness, the ITP hopes to help usher in a new era of psychiatric research, as well as delivery of clinical care to underserved areas of the world.
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