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NeuroFlow Uses Metrics to Improve Mental Health

Co-founded by a Wharton MBA and a Penn Bioengineer, NeuroFlow quantifies patient stress, relaxation, and engagement in mental health treatment.

A Personal Mission

On average, 20 veterans commit suicide every day.

As a platoon leader in the US Army, NeuroFlow CEO Chris Molaro saw firsthand the mental toll that combat took on his soldiers.

Upon returning from his tour of duty in Iraq — where he was responsible for 40 other soldiers — Chris was disappointed in the mental healthcare treatment he and his fellow soldiers received.

As Molaro himself put it, “Subjective measurement of mental health states led to misdiagnosis, higher cost of care, and — most importantly — poor outcomes for many of my fellow soldiers.”

He wanted to see change.

How to Drive Change

When Molaro started his MBA at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, he didn’t escape the poor mental health outcomes he had seen in the military.

At the University of Pennsylvnia, stress is often the name of the game. Since 2013 alone, there have been 14 student suicides at the university. When you include universities nationwide, 6% of college students report having seriously considered suicide in the past year.

Molaro began talking to his peers about the mental health outcomes he had seen both in the military and in school. When Molaro spoke with Adam Pardes, a Bioengineering PhD student who he met through Penn’s InSITE fellowship, he found someone equally passionate about improving mental health treatement.

CEO Chris Molaro (front) and COO Adam Pardes (back)

How could they do that? By introducing quantifiable metrics to mental health treatments in an effort to reduce cost of care and improve patient outcomes.

Upon realizing this, the duo co-founded NeuroFlow.

Talk Therapy in an Age of Big Data

Talk therapy is a central component of mental health treatment.

NeuroFlow seeks to use biometric data — such as EEG measuring activity in the brain and HRV measuring activity in the hart — to quantitatively measure the patient’s mental state.

At first glance, the traditional approach to talk therapy may seem diametrically opposed to the notion of using biometric data in mental health. However, as Molaro points out, “the goal is not to replace the therapist but rather to create a tool for therapist’s to better measure their patient’s mental state.

NeuroFlow process mapping

For example, to pair talk therapy with NeuroFlow’s software, a therapist can record the session and track the patient’s core emotions — stress, relaxation, and engagement — as they talk.

“Self-reported emotional states can be unreliable so NeuroFlow introduces some objectivity,” Molaro notes.

If the patient’s stress levels spike when talking about, for example, their relationship with an uncle, NeuroFlow provides quantitative data to show that this relationship may be a trigger for the patient’s stress.

Additionally, the NeuroFlow team expects that its product will help therapists improve patient outcomes by boosting retention. As explained by Pardes, “objective data engages patients early on in treatment in an effort to reduce rampantly high dropout rates.”

Planting the Seed (Round)

NeuroFlow is growing. After raising a $1.25 million seed round in October 2017, the mental health startup hired a data scientist and an engineer.

NeuroFlow team in its Philadelphia headquarters

Simultaneously, the team is ramping up its marketing efforts as it is laser focused on getting its product into the hands of more clinicians and patients. This is timed well with the culmination of the team’s beta phase and the preparation for a full commercial launch this month.

“We have an amazing product with the potential to transform millions of lives. Now, we need to get it out there so that we can continue to improve it,” says Molaro.

Opportunities and Challenges

NeuroFlow isn’t alone in its attempt to drive better outcomes in mental health through technology.

Investor activity in mental health technologies has ballooned in recent years — primarily fueled by early stage investors like Y Combinator2017 is on track to be a record year for mental health startup investments.

This spike in early stage investment activity is in part because healthcare organizations are increasingly migrating to the cloud.

But — more importantly to NeuroFlow — healthcare is undergoing an important change in how performance is tracked and measured. As part of a shift from a volume-driven to a value-driven strategy, health systems are increasingly being asked to focus on, measure, and report patient outcomes.

With quantifiable metrics, NeuroFlow will help mental health professionals measure and report patient outcomes in this new value-driven age of healthcare.

But this won’t be easy.

Even as NeuroFlow ramps up its sales and marketing efforts, adoption will be a formidable challenge. The US mental health space is fragmented — with over 5,000 hospitals and countless private practice mental health practitioners — so NeuroFlow must highlight its long-term value proposition to a critical mass of these decision makers to penetrate the market.

There is Always a Move

When the NeuroFlow team initially asked for $50,000 from Benjamin Franklin Technology Partners to get off the ground in January, the investor passed.

6 months later? Benjamin Franklin Technology Partners invested $333,000 as part of NeuroFlow’s seed round.

Similarly, when NeuroFlow’s initial study at Penn was delayed indefinitely this past Spring, it seemed that there was no path forward. Some might have given up. But not the NeuroFlow team.

With their resilience, NeuroFlow was able to get the study up and running over the summer. These experiences may explain why Chris Molaro loves this quote from Ben Horowitz’s blog:

“This isn’t checkers; this is motherfuckin’ chess… there is always a move.” Ben Horowitz, Co-Founder of Andreessen Horowitz

The NeuroFlow team plans to keep finding its next move until improved measurement and treatment lead to better mental health outcomes. Because 20 veteran suicides a day is not an acceptable outcome.

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