LYSSN.io gives therapists feedback to improve their practice
As a patient, finding a therapist or coach is a bit like rolling the dice. “You could get someone fantastic, but we really have no way of knowing,” says Zac Imel, chief science officer and co-founder of LYSSN.io. “If you go to a therapist and have a bad experience, how likely are you to go back?”
Being a therapist or coach is very, very hard, he says. The profession requires talking to people all day for 30 hours a week—sometimes more—and getting very little feedback on what you did and how it worked. Imel reveres therapists as some of the most amazing, empathic people in the world. “However, like with any skill, you can start to drift and lose your edge over time,” he says.
That’s where LYSSN.io comes in—by using artificial intelligence to record and analyze therapy and coaching sessions, LYSSN.io can help guide therapists and coaches to use more effective techniques. And unlike a human supervisor, LYSSN.io can give scientifically-proven efficacy feedback on every single session. LYSSN.io’s technology can also generate the clinical notes that therapists have to keep.
“In the simplest terms, the core of mental health care is a conversation between two people: a patient and therapist or coach. We offer technology that supports the quality of those conversations at scale—improving satisfaction, utilization of needed treatments, and ultimately patient outcomes,” says David Atkins, CEO and co-founder of LYSSN.io.
LYSSN.io works with institutions across behavioral health and healthcare landscapes—including institutions that train therapists, like universities—to help make training more efficient and scalable, Atkins says. The company works with traditional behavioral health organizations in Utah, around the country, and the growing tele-behavioral health market like health and behavioral health coaching organizations.
“In all cases, our customers are interested in providing the best possible care to their patients, and we help support the feedback loop that makes that possible,” Atkins says.
Before co-founding LYSSN.io, Imel was—and still is—the director of training in counseling psychology at the University of Utah. Here, he researches how psychotherapy works, how to improve it, and how to make sure people who need help get the best treatment they can. Atkins was a research professor in psychiatry at the University of Washington. He was trained as a psychologist but worked for years as a data scientist on large NIH-funded grants evaluating various forms of psychotherapy.
“The idea for what became LYSSN.io came out of my observation that what researchers did in those clinical trials to maintain the quality of psychotherapy ‘talk’ treatments were completely unsustainable in the real world—record sessions and share them with human experts who then manually reviewed them,” Atkins says. “This is phenomenally slow, expensive, and never used in the real world of behavioral health care.”
Imel says that psychotherapy and other behavioral treatments (e.g., health coaching) can be very helpful—they are the first-line treatment for many of the most expensive, damaging chronic conditions such as depression, substance abuse, smoking, diabetes, and sleep problems. However, as professors responsible for training new clinicians and doing research that improves clients’ care, Atkins and Imel were acutely aware that the tools currently used to improve treatment quality from research weren’t scalable.
Atkins and Imel realized that psychotherapy is just a large, very complex text document—and the same techniques being used to analyze text from millions of web pages online could be used to improve the quality of a conversation.
Improving communication in healthcare
If AI is helping therapists improve, will robots replace actual human therapists anytime soon? Imel says there are many interesting products utilizing “bot” therapy, but these “fun tools” are a long way from replacing human therapists. In his opinion, there is a place for these tools as adjuncts to care or as a first step in a stepped care model for individuals who are not in great distress. “However, they are often much more like ‘choose your own adventure’ pre-scripted interactions that have some adaptability depending on what you say,” he says.
According to Imel, communication is at the heart of healthcare. Conversations with doctors, nurses, and care coordinators make the difference in whether a patient engages in care, takes medication, feels satisfied and helped, and ultimately gets better.
There is almost no quality improvement around communication right now, Imel says. “We only hear about it when it goes very, very wrong, and then it’s often too late. As the technology LYSSN.io is developing matures, we will be at the center of improving healthcare communication everywhere. There are a lot of health-related conversations happening out there, and we want to make them all more effective for people who need help.”