Psychiatry Innovation Lab aimed at transforming mental health


“Often, innovation is a product of desperation. I have seen too many of my patients die from opioid overdoses, and I’ve decided to create something that can stop this.”

This is the opening description of an innovative idea that Joseph Insler, MD, an early–career psychiatrist in Boston, pitched to the judges last October.

As one of the judges, this is how I described the item: “It’s like a Fitbit for people addicted to opioids, who are at risk of overdose. But, instead of tracking your footsteps and your sleep movements, it tracks your blood oxygen level, heart rate, and lack of movement. Based on an algorithm tuned to identify signs of an overdose, the Opioid Overdose Recovery Bracelet would give you a shot of medicine in your wrist. If you have accidentally overdosed, it will give you a premeasured dose of naloxone from its reservoir, likely saving your life.”

Dr. Joseph Insler pitches his electronic overdose bracelet to the Innovation Lab judges. Courtesy Dr. Steven R. Daviss

Dr. Joseph Insler pitches his electronic overdose bracelet to the Innovation Lab judges.

This is one of the many innovative pitches that was made at the American Psychiatric Association’s second Psychiatry Innovation Lab last October in Washington. The lab was created by Nina Vasan, MD, a Stanford (Calif.) University psychiatrist completing her residency while also enrolled in the university’s MBA program. The first lab was held at the APA annual meeting in May 2016 in Atlanta.

The goal of the Psychiatry Innovation Lab is to catalyze the formation of innovative ventures to transform mental health. “We nurture early stage ideas and ventures by investing in them with mentorship, education, funding, and collaboration opportunities with our community of mental health innovators,” Dr. Vasan said. At its core, the lab is an interactive exercise in experiential learning, where participants learn how to develop and pitch an entrepreneurial idea and then work together with experts in real time to improve their idea so that they leave with a solid plan for improving mental health. A panel of judges and leaders in innovation collaborate by providing feedback and mentoring. The competition event uses a “Shark Tank” style of winnowing out competitors but is a friendlier format than that of the TV show.

“There’s been a real call to action for using entrepreneurship to change the future, and the Psychiatry Innovation Lab is our answer to that call,” Dr. Vasan said. “We’ve had finalists ranging from high school students to emeritus professors. We’ve seen ideas for [anything from] advancing human rights all the way to using technology to improve access to care.”

Access to mental health and addiction care is one of the driving forces behind a recent wave of investment in behavioral health. There is a lot of interest now in how newer technologies can be leveraged in to improve access, screening, prevention, analytics, and treatments. Younger people coming into the field now have a much shorter path between idea and action. “Think of the lab as a place where people turn their idealism into impact. They learn how to create change that reflects our values: effective, measurable, collaborative, affordable, and sustainable.”

Dr. Steven Roy Daviss

Dr. Steven Roy Daviss

Early career psychiatrists have been particularly drawn to the use of technology to improve their work,” said John Torous, MD, codirector of the digital psychiatry program at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, both in Boston. Paul O’Leary, MD, founding president of SHKO Medicine in Birmingham, Ala., thinks that the APA’s focus on technology is key for attracting young psychiatrists. “The innovation lab offers a glimpse into the future of psychiatry. More than that, it offers residents and early career psychiatrists a real opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to our profession. This is really the TED talks for psychiatry.”

New lab will set records

On May 21, at the APA annual meeting in San Diego, the third Innovation Lab event will take place with record sponsorship and funding. More than $30,000 in prizes will be awarded to winning teams in the following categories: Grand Prize, Audience Choice, Outstanding Progress, Most Promising Innovation, and Most Disruptive Innovation. New this year, the Accelerator Prize will be awarded to the alumni team that has made the most progress since its participation in a previous Innovation Lab. A special prize from Google, worth $20,000, will be given to the innovation that best uses the potential of Cloud services, including Web applications, software, and machine learning.

Dr. Nina Vasan, creator of the Psychiatry Innovation Lab, says the goal is to use the ideas sparked by the competition to change the future. Courtesy Dr. Steven R. Daviss

Dr. Nina Vasan, creator of the Psychiatry Innovation Lab, says the goal is to use the ideas sparked by the competition to change the future.

The concept of an Innovation Lab has been expanded into what the APA is calling the Innovation Zone, a catalyst for the advancement of new mental health technologies. Indeed, the APA has been embracing many forms of new technology, including mobile health apps, a mental health registry, electronic health records, telepsychiatry, and involvement in Health Level 7, which advocates for health information technology standards that account for the needs of psychiatrists and our patients.

Also, on May 21, the live Innovation Lab event will begin with the seven finalists giving initial pitches about their innovative ideas for improving mental health care delivery and how psychiatrists are diagnosing, treating, or managing patients. In addition, 10 semifinalists will be selected to deliver rapid pitches. Audience members will then vote from their devices, and the top semifinalist will proceed as a finalist. The event will end with an evening networking session aimed at building community and collaborations among mental health innovators, including clinicians, entrepreneurs, engineers, investors, and patients.

To learn more or watch videos about these innovators, go to, or search for “APA innovation lab.”

Dr. Daviss is the chief medical informatics officer at M3 Information and chairs the American Psychiatric Association’s Committee on Mental Health Information Technology.

Psychiatry Innovation Lab alumni

Entrepreneurs from the October 2016 competition created products that addressed addiction, autism, Alzheimer’s, posttraumatic stress disorder, and other mental disorders.


  • Overdose Recovery Bracelet – “A novel solution to the opioid epidemic” – Joseph Insler
  • Spectrum – “An app to encourage facial processing and emotion recognition in autism spectrum disorder” – Swathi Krishna
  • Spring – “Enabling personalized behavioral healthcare using machine learning and big data” – April Koh
  • Alzhelp – “Using augmented reality and intelligent personal assistant software to keep Alzheimer’s patients safe” – Akanksha Jain, Michelle Koh, and Priscilla Siow
  • MiHelper – “Identifying patterns of distress and determining optimal periods for real time mental health interventions” – Kammarauche Isuzu and Mackenzie Drazan
  • WEmbrace – “A mobile application for foreign-background psychiatric patients to effectively provide critical care” – Ellen Oh


  • Broadleaf Mental Health –“Reaching school-aged children in the rural eastern Himalayas” – Michael Matergia
  • TechLink – “Connecting students and tech” – Akanksha Jain, Michelle Koh, and Priscilla Siow
  • Beacon – “Smarter therapy. Together” – Shrenik Jain and Ravi Shah
  • Muse – “Assisted meditation in mental health” – Graeme Moffat
  • MiResource – “Helping adolescents find the right therapeutic fit” – Gabriela Asturias and Mackenzie Drazen
  • BraVe Reality – “Virtual treatment for PTSD patients” – Monica Kullar
  • SKNR – “A user-centric psychotherapy tool for the digital age” – Hyun-Hee Kim
  • We2Link – “Connect better” – Michael Malone PRISM – “Helping patients gain insight through digital art mobile app” – Kenechi Ejebe and Whitney McFadden

SOURCE: Dr. Daviss

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