Cerebral CEO explains how AI can create ‘the most proactive suicide prevention program’

Cerebral CEO David Mou joins Yahoo Finance’s Anjalee Khemlani live from HLTH 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada, to discuss innovation in health care, mental health, how AI can help prevent suicide, providing sustainable health care, and profit growth amid ongoing macro headwinds.

Video Transcript

JULIE HYMAN: Yahoo Finance’s Anjalee Khemlani has been out in Las Vegas at the HLTH Healthcare Innovation event. Among the executives she spoke to, the CEO of Cerebral, David Mou, they spoke about everything from the company’s role in mental health to the use of artificial intelligence in the healthcare industry.

DAVID MOW: Our mission here is very, very clear, which is to commit to patients and democratize access to high quality mental healthcare for all. And first of all, I just want to paint the picture of how ugly this space is for mental healthcare. When you look for a psychiatrist or a therapist, it sometimes takes two to three months before you can find that person. The vast majority of mental health professionals do not measure clinical outcomes at all. And there’s stigma, in addition to all of that, that prevents people from getting care. We want to make sure that care is accessible so we can get care to people within days.

Since I became CEO, I’m doubling down on clinical quality. So we’re adding more resources to clinical quality. We have one of the premier suicide prevention programs that uses machine learning to detect patients at risk. And in addition to all of that, we’re building stronger relationships with healthcare partners. So primary care clinics, healthcare insurance companies so that patients can get access to care through multiple different channels.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: And have you seen those relationships be affected by what has happened?

DAVID MOW: We still have 60 million lives under coverage with insurance companies. We–patients still love us. They actually have great ratings for us throughout all of this. And at the end of the day, I think what really matters is the patient. How well are they doing? And because we survey our patients, we know how they’re doing. Their depression symptoms are better. Their anxiety symptoms are better. They’re less suicidal. And so that’s the orientation that I want to really make sure that we underscore, that patient first, always, and we keep that orientation.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: I’m glad you brought up AI because I know that’s also really big in the health space in general, the use of AI and how valuable it can be, data as well as a really important tool to help. So where do you see the integration of that in what Cerebral is doing?

DAVID MOW: Yeah, so maybe I could talk about how we’re using machine learning to prevent suicides. So every day, we get thousands of messages on our platforms from patients. And some of these messages are concerning. They’re suicidal. So a patient may say, I want to kill myself. I don’t want to go on anymore. We use machine learning to identify those patients with 97% accuracy.

And this is the most important part. We then reach out to those patients within minutes. We have crisis specialists who reach out and make sure that those patients are safe. We do a risk assessment. We ensure that they’re doing OK. And we triage them to care. And that is the most proactive suicide prevention program there is. This service is available 24/7 for all of our patients. They don’t have to pay extra for it. It’s just the right thing to do.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: What about data? I know that that’s something that a lot of healthcare companies are trying to utilize. Do you feel like there’s room for that in mental health?

DAVID MOW: Absolutely. And it’s a problem. Over 90% of mental health professionals don’t measure outcomes, so they’re not getting that data. We do. We measure that for the vast majority of our patients. So why is that so important? Now we can tell the patients, you’re getting better, or you’re not getting better, or maybe you’re getting worse. We can tell the clinicians, of your entire panel of patients, you want to focus on these specific patients because they’ve been very depressed. They remain very depressed.

We want to be able to tell the insurance companies, here’s your panel of members, and we’re getting them to take care within days, but here are the ones that you want to focus on. So data is a lifeblood of high quality healthcare. And it needs to be the lifeblood of high quality mental healthcare as well.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: Talk to me about what you’ve been doing– I know we’ve talked about how you’ve basically been on an apology tour all year. You’ve had a lot to do to make up for some of the missteps maybe or, just in general, obstacles that you faced as a result of really fast growth during the pandemic. You’ve recently had to lay off a number of employees, as well as cut some of your programs. Are you looking to build those back, or are you really focused on the core product right now?

DAVID MOW: It’s a tough macroeconomic environment. It’s been affecting companies left and right, small and big. And we want to make sure that we make decisions here that make– ensure that we can provide sustainable healthcare for our patients in the long-term.

So we had to make a decision to decrease marketing spend and take some of those resources and commit them to clinical quality efforts, compliance efforts, and legal efforts. The idea here, in short, is commit to the patient, do every– make sure that every decision that we make is in the benefit of the patient, and we’ll do well there.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: Do you feel like what you’re doing is different than what other telehealth platforms are doing?

DAVID MOW: I feel like we are one of the most data-forward outpatient mental health clinics there is. As background, I was a suicide researcher and a data scientist. And it was pretty surprising to me. We found that psychiatrists can’t predict whether a patient will have a suicide attempt or not. It’s a coin flip. And so what I realized is that the mental health field, frankly, is allergic to data, and we just haven’t used it at scale. And that became my life goal. It became my career to build out companies that can really leverage data to improve care.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: And yet, you’re in this really important space because that’s exactly what a lot of companies are trying to do. Mental health is now at the forefront. It is coined as the pandemic after the pandemic by some. And so we’re looking at an era where employers are focused on mental health. Individuals need that care. And we’re also facing a shortage of labor in that space. So, looking at it in totality, how hard is it to really break into the space with mental health?

DAVID MOW: It’s a challenging space. And I think one of the major things here is that the demand for mental health grossly outstrips the supply of mental health professionals. And so the question is, how can telehealth help? It really does help. We can really democratize access to care because now we can get clinicians from many different areas. So most counties in the US don’t have a single psychiatrist.

And I’ll give you a story. One of our patients was getting his virtual therapy, and our therapist found out he was in his pickup truck on the side of the road and asked, well, Bill, why are you on the side of the road? And Bill answered it’s not his real name.

He said, well, I have really bad depression, and I’m not ready to tell my wife or my kids that I have depression. I also don’t make enough money to have a private office to have a phone call. You’re going to have to meet me where I am because I can’t keep on meeting you doctors where you are.

And I think that’s profound. That’s what telehealth can do. It can really extend the reach of mental healthcare to populations, people like Bill, who historically have been disenfranchised from the entire mental health system.

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