Chief of mental health at NIH sets sights on Google

Technology still hasn't had the impact on healthcare that it should, according to Thomas Insel, outgoing director of the National Institute of Mental Health. Now he's teaming up with Google to see that it does.

Specifically, Insel says in an interview with The Washington Post, he will join Google in an effort to focus on how technology can help people suffering from mental illness, especially in the wake of the mass shooting at an Oregon community college.

"One of the possibilities here is, by using the technologies we already have ... we may be able to get much more information about behavior than what we've been able to use in making a diagnosis," he tells the Post.

Insel has been instrumental to President Barack Obama's BRAIN Initiative during his time at NIH. The initiative was announced by the president in 2013, with goals including making advances in artificial intelligence and increasing understanding of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, among other illnesses.

An aspect of health technology that hasn't been as thoroughly invested in, Insel says, is using the tools to track behavior and behavioral change. Looking at everything from sleep to speech to social media activity could be "transformative if we do it well," he says.

However, while the advent of electronic medical records has increased the amount and kind of information about a patient that can be stored, currently EMRs can be a burden to the integration of primary care and behavioral health, requiring providers to resort to workarounds, according to a recent study in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine.

In addition, behavioral hospitals have received short shrift when it comes to electronic health records and Meaningful Use, according to Edmund Billings, chief medical officer of Medsphere Systems Corporation.

The debate over treating people with mental illness is heating up in the wake of recent shootings, and while the Affordable Care Act was supposed to fix disparities in how insurers cover the costs of mental healthcare, the results so far have been mixed. This has caused a bipartisan bill by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) on mental health reform bill to gain momentum, and will get a hearing later this month in the Senate health committee.

To learn more:
- here's the Post article