The Mental Health Advocate: TalkSession's Melissa Thompson

Thompson is using mobile technology to revolutionize the mental health care industry.

How many more people would get help if they could talk to a therapist from the safety of their own home? Melissa Thompson is the founder and CEO of TalkSession, a startup dedicated to making mental health care accessible through remote therapy sessions between mental health care providers and patients. TalkSession uses the latest in HIPAA-compliant mobile and web technology to provide fast, reliable, and private remote mental health care.

In 2013, Thompson's innovative approach to remote therapy won her a prestigious position in GE & Startup Health Academy's Entrepreneurship Program as a "health care transformer," as well as a Life Sciences Award from the respected Springboard Enterprises accelerator for women-founded health care ventures.

Melissa Thompson

Besides TalkSession, the tech savvy 30-year-old has a wearable tech review site, and works with a number of mental health and neuroscience initiatives including the Flawless Foundation, an organization committed to enhancing education about neurodevelopment and behavioral challenges, and the Newport Academy, a treatment program for teens suffering from mental health, behavioral health, and substance-abuse issues.

Here is what you can learn from a former Goldman-Sachs trader gone mental health advocate:

Fast Company: What major health care issues were you solving for when you started TalkSession?

Thompson:I just posted this on YouTube.

There are so many issues in health care in the United States, and mental health is often the underpinning of many physical disorders. Moreover, there is so much waste, inefficiency, and just . . . sadness--sadness that goes unspoken; people who need help who cannot access it. We can change health care through technology.

Fast Company: How can you develop the trust necessary in a doctor-patient relationship via mobile technology?

Thompson: Mobile empowers people. You can take mobile with you. You can turn it on, turn it off, engage and disengage with it at your own discretion. If we look at the 13- to 17-year-old population, they are sending over 5,000 text messages every month and four out of five sleep with their phones. Mobile is a vital cog of their existence. I am 30 years old. I probably fall within the 14- to 17-year- demographic in terms of mobile habits, but I also believe the larger population can learn from that age group's habits regarding technology and mobile trends.

Importantly, today's contemporary "shared economy" mentality aids the trust-building process in a remote relationship. A few years ago we would likely have balked at the notion of staying in someone else's home while on vacation. Ten years ago, we would have doubted that online dating would become mainstream. Now the norm has shifted. I think mobile has actually done a lot of good for our faith in human nature. We trust crowdsourced reviews and lending our cars and homes. We feel more confident when we see a friend has checked in to the same location.

Fast Company: Can a doctor really perform the same services via mobile technology that they offer with in-person meetings? What developments in mobile technology make that possible?

Thompson: In some areas of medicine, mobile technology can be a substitute and superior form of treatment, and for other areas, technology may augment parts of the process, but it cannot be a substitute. TalkSession focuses on behavioral health. Ninety-nine percent of mental health treatment is non-palpable, so it naturally lends itself well to video.

Mobile versus just "remote" has not been studied formally, but we can look at trends in devices as a proxy. The more comfortable a patient is, the more willing he or she is to seek mental health treatment. Motivation, stigma, and convenience can be major barriers to mental health care. Mobile can alleviate these issues. If someone suffers from a mental disorder, he or she might not have the wherewithal to leave home to seek treatment. Mobile could alleviate that impediment. People can be reticent to be seen going to a psychiatrist's office. Mobile certainly makes that easier and also opens the conversation around why the patient feels that kind of stigma. Convenience is also a no-brainer. On average, people travel 45 minutes in each direction to get to a mental health provider's office, and it is rarely in the "moment of need."

Moreover, mobile has the power to augment the quality of care. What unique abilities does mobile technology offer? For one, the ability to efficiently collect social, biometric, psychological, and environmental information, which can contribute to large-scale prevention and management initiatives.

The amount of data that is shared, tweeted, checked-in, geo-located, and emanated is astounding. With that data, we can better inform treatment, increase collaboration among physicians, and keep patients better informed of prevention mechanisms and treatment. Through mobile video, we can expand the cognitive boundaries of mental health care providers by providing contextual awareness around patients. This creates the opportunity to provide them with the best care--the most relevant care--at the time and place they need it most.

Fast Company: You are also working on Quantified30, where you review mobile health apps and services in an attempt to promote “data-driven wellness." What mobile apps and services have you found that have the greatest impact on physical and mental wellness? What features help them cross the digital barrier to create a positive impact in the real world?

Thompson: Quantified30 has reviews, data mashups, and insights on how to use wearables to kick unwanted habits and start healthy ones. Mobile apps and wearables are definitely "personalized" medicine in that it completely depends on one's goals and lifestyles. As I am testing all of these great devices, I wish I was a runner. There is a great advantage for the athletic-types to use these easy mechanisms to improve fitness and track progress.

I believe the best wearable devices are the ones that fit seamlessly into one's life. If I had to pick one currently on the market, Shine by Misfit would be the clear winner. It is only one device of the many that I wear that is completely waterproof, so most of the time, I forgot I am even wearing it. (The opposite of Google Glass). Shine's app has a great UX, and the measurements are quite precise.

Fast Company: What mobile trends are you watching right now?

Thompson: Beyond robotics and biometric tracking devices, I love to see novel ways that early-stage companies are positioning themselves to not just look for a quick exit or for one million downloads, but to create a solution. I see so much heart in the work of my peers.

Also, the technology trends in mobile are transformative, but currently I am fascinated at how government agencies, entities, large corporations, hospitals, payers, and "the powers that be" are engaging with innovative entrepreneurs and early-stage companies. I think that the cooperation, initiative, and support early-stage companies see and receive while they are still "early" will greatly dictate the landscape of the future of corporate America and government.

You can follow Melissa at: @bizmelizz

This interview was has been condensed from the original.

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[Image: Flickr user Susanne Nilsson]

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3 Comments

  • Ibrar

    Also, the technology trends in mobile are transformative, but currently I am fascinated at how government agencies, entities, large corporations, hospitals, payers, and "the powers that be" are engaging with innovative entrepreneurs and early-stage companies.