Devices & Diagnostics

Humana, Aetna using voice technology that detects stress, depression in callers

A company with voice technology software that can detect stress or depression in a person’s voice is generating a lot of interest among payers looking for efficient ways to measure patient engagement and behavioral health. Cogito‘s Social Signal Platform for call centers and mobile platforms is a way of addressing the increasing complexities of the psychological […]

A company with voice technology software that can detect stress or depression in a person’s voice is generating a lot of interest among payers looking for efficient ways to measure patient engagement and behavioral health.

Cogito‘s Social Signal Platform for call centers and mobile platforms is a way of addressing the increasing complexities of the psychological factor that influence people’s health, said CEO Joshua Feast, who presented the concept at the recent Health 2.0 Spring Fling conference in Boston where the technology sparked a lot of buzz.

The program, developed at MIT’s Human Dynamics Lab, works in real time and flags subtle behavioral marks the company identifies as “honest signals” unwittingly given by people who are depressed or under stress. Although the subtle speech indicators for people under stress have been known in psychology for years, the fact that this can be picked up and identified by a computer is novel.

A couple of the Charlestown, Massachusetts-based company’s payer customers use the software as an alert for call center staff to make sure they interpret signals so they know how to respond to members and not miss crucial information, something easily done when dealing with a high volume of calls. Humana started using the social signal platform more than a year ago and Aetna began using it this year, Feast said. The program could be adopted by other groups that track post-hospitalization or monitor vulnerable patients like case managers.

“Companies are not doing anything different. The technology is just layered onto something that already exists,” Feast said. “This is to identify in a scalable way which individuals sound distressed.”

The technology is of particular interest to the U.S. military with thousands of soldiers returning home from Afghanistan and Iraq who might be suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

Cogito is contributing to a program being run at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The study is using the Social Signal Platform with telehealth to develop an early warning system to detect psychological stress.

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Privacy is a big issue so the program organizers are tasked with getting informed consent from program participants.

Lest anyone worry that the age of computer as psychologist is at hand, Feast emphasizes that computers are simply helping humans put a puzzle together. Computers can only help humans, he said. It’s about efficiencies.

What’s the future of this technology? Without giving a time frame, Feast sees the possibility of  a personal monitoring device that could give feedback. Clinical trials are another possibility to monitor participants’ mental health.