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How do top-funded companies use conversational agents for the treatment of Depression?

Workshop Presentation by Aishah Alattas

In this workshop paper titled “To What Scale Are Conversational Agents Used by Top-funded Companies Offering Digital Mental Health Services for Depression?” and presentation at the recent BIOSTEC Scale IT Up conference (12-14 February 2021), the authors explore to what extent top funded companies use conversational agents in the treatment and management of Depression. A review by Tudor Car et al. (2020) showed that conversational agents can be effective in reducing levels of depression, anxiety and perceived stress as well as increase self-esteem and psychological wellbeing. However, while there is strong research backing for the use of conversational agents (CAs) in the treatment of mental health concerns, it is unclear how many companies specialising in the treatment of Depression are currently using this type of support in patient care.

To look at the current state of affairs, the authors Aishah Alattas, Gisbert W. Teepe, Konstantin Leidenberger, Elgar Fleisch, Lorainne Tudor Car, Alicia Salamanca-Sanabria, and Tobias Kowatsch used the two platforms Crunchbase Pro and PitchBook to identify top-funded companies in the mental health care space, using a selection process based on inclusion and exclusion criteria defined a priori. The authors focused on therapeutic care containing active components for patients with Depression. The final list of companies was validated by two experts with extensive industry and academic experience in the field of digital mental health. The authors analysed the 30 top-funded companies as they accounted for 97.6% of the total funding in all 79 companies identified. The interventions of 29 companies were suited for final analysis as they actively used CAs.

The results of this analysis indicate that the scale at which conversational agent technology is utilised by the 29 top-funded digital mental health companies is rather low, standing at 24%. The results further showed that 7 of the 29 interventions (24%) used a CA, with the most common purpose of use being education, closely followed by assistance, training and onboarding. The authors note that the combination of education, assistance, training, and education reflect the core components of traditional face-to-face therapy, which is seemingly being replicated in the use of CAs. The authors further identified a gap in the market in chatbot technology for elderly populations, which mirrors a general lack of interventions for depression targeted towards geriatric populations.

For further details, please refer to the full workshop paper.

Reference:

Alattas, A., Teepe, G., Leidenberger, K., Fleisch, E., Tudor Car, L., Salamanca-Sanabria, A., Kowatsch, T., To What Scale Are Conversational Agents Used by Top-funded Companies Offering Digital Mental Health Services for Depression?, In Proceedings of the 14th International Joint Conference on Biomedical Engineering Systems and Technologies (BIOSTEC 2021) – Volume 5: HEALTHINF, 801-808 ISBN: 978-989-758-490-9 ISSN: 2184-4305. [PDF]

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