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  • Writer's pictureJade Tang-Taylor

Exploring the Intersection of Tech, Innovation, and Mental Health:A Panel Discussion

In the ever-evolving intersection of health, technology, and innovation, we find ourselves amidst a tapestry of groundbreaking possibilities. This dynamic space is where healthcare transforms, technology reshapes, and innovation propels us into the future.

At our recent panel event, three insightful speakers offered a glimpse into this transformative realm. From people-centric Innovation, addressing stigma and negative mental health experiences, and exploring challenges, opportunities and possibilities in the healthcare and tech sector, their perspectives wove together a narrative that explores what's possible in shaping the future in this space.

In this blog post, we explored the contributions of each of these speakers, their backgrounds, expertise and lived experience they brought to the panel discussion. We'll unravel the key themes and insights they shared, providing a deeper understanding of the potential within the realms of health, tech, and innovation.

Speaker 1 - Sylvia Hach: Navigating the Intersection: A Multifaceted Journey in Health, Tech, and Research

Sylvia, originally from Germany, shared her diverse background and experiences, expressing excitement about the intersection of technology and healthcare. Trained in psychology, neuroscience, and health science in both New Zealand and Germany, she emphasised the lack of theoretical frameworks guiding HealthTech assessment. Sylvia has explored methodologies to ensure cultural responsiveness and combat biases in research.

In her research, she focuses on the application of health tech in clinicians' and clients' lives, examining and reflecting on efficacy and effectiveness. Projects include virtual reality for self-compassion training, mood tracking mobile apps for young adults, and telehealth stress management interventions. As a research supervisor and industry advisor at academyEX, Sylvia aims to foster critical thinking and contribute to improving scientific methodology and literature.

As a clinician and founder of "PowerX2," Sylvia highlighted her healthcare practice's unique approach, emphasising the intersection of brain and body health. The practice prioritises relationships, sustainability, and the use of technology where applicable, such as telehealth and wearables.

Sylvia's various roles in healthcare, research, teaching and learning; inform and strengthen each other, and she is enthusiastic about the potential of responsibly designed HealthTech with a solid theoretical foundation.

“ [For me…] Really bringing into focus more the power of lifestyle medicine, rather than being a band aid or the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. We're moving into a space, both in terms of scientific discourse, but also public awareness, of finding out how you can shape your health and take part in that,  rather than being a healthcare consumer .So I think that's a real positive move, that possibly technology can assist us in.” - Sylvia Hach

Speaker 2 - Ben Briggs: Bridging Health and Technology: Insights from National Emerging Tech Innovation Team

Ben Briggs, Principal Advisor in the New Technology & Innovation team in Data &DIgital, Te Whatu Ora, shared insights into his work focused on the intersection of health and technology. Ben is first generation Pākeha, of English and Scottish heritage. He has over 10 years design experience in government, contributing to various roles.

He emphasised the complexity of the health sector, especially within government, highlighting the challenges of merging 20 different district health boards with unique systems and approaches. Ben's team of 10 operates with a co-design approach, bringing people together to solve problems using technology, not limited to websites and apps but encompassing a broad view, including AI, genomics, data and Pharma.

Ben provided examples of the mahi being undertaken by the New Technology & Innovation team. This includes machine learning platforms, student placement systems, 3D printing, drone usage, radiology text analysis, and natural language processing tools. He also discussed initiatives such as a website for collecting Māori health data, remote patient monitoring with a co-design approach, a national tech innovation framework, and a point-of-care device for faster test results in emergency departments.

Overall, Ben's work focuses on leveraging technology to address health challenges, improve efficiencies, and ensure equity in healthcare services.

“Really, what we're all about is… Looking at bringing people together with people who have a problem to solve and looking at that area in terms of where technology can help.” Ben Briggs 

Speaker 3 - Emily Preston: Transforming Mental Health: Ember Innovations' Mission-Led Innovations for Aotearoa

Emily Preston, the Innovation Lead at Ember Innovations, shared insights into the organisation's mission to bring a fundamental shift to the mental health system in Aotearoa. Born out of Ember Korowai Takitini, an NGO delivering mental health & addiction services, Ember Innovations aims to address the gap in mental health support for the significant number of people left without assistance.

Emily highlighted the challenges in obtaining robust data in mental health and emphasised the need for a more inclusive and accessible mental health support system. Ember Innovations focuses on creating an enabling ecosystem for innovation, connecting various parts of the mental health support ecosystem, advocating for reframing mental health conversations, providing direct support to innovators, and focusing on challenge-led innovation.

The organisation's theory of change revolves around enhancing access and choice for mental health support, leveraging a broad definition of innovation that includes both technological and non-technological solutions. Emily emphasised the importance of connecting people, advocating for mental health reframing, providing direct support to innovators, and engaging in challenge-led innovation to address specific mental health issues.

“I've always been really aware of the limitations of my knowledge and experience and being a migrant to this community. And not having grown up here that feels even more important to me that I kind of can decenter myself and my perspective and hear from people who know better and shape something with them. So yeah, that's a really important part of it for me, having different sorts of expertise and building something together, I think is where the magic happens.” - Emily Preston

Key Themes:

As we reflect on these thought-provoking presentations & discussions, several key themes emerge:

People-Centric Innovation:

The conversation began with a focus on the human aspect of technology-driven healthcare. Sylvia, a clinician, emphasised the importance of putting people first. She discussed how technology can bridge gaps in accessing healthcare, reaching those in remote areas or facing financial constraints. Sylvia also highlighted the role of technology in supplementing clinical work with objective data, enhancing patient engagement and control.

Addressing Stigma and Negative Experiences:

The panellists agreed on the significance of addressing stigma and negative past experiences associated with healthcare. Innovations discussed by Emily and Ben showcased solutions aimed at making mental health support more accessible, user-friendly, and tailored to individual needs. This approach aligns with the overarching theme of creating a more inclusive and responsive healthcare system.

The Role of Research and Ethical Considerations:

Sylvia, representing the research perspective, stressed the importance of applied research in the health tech space. She pointed out the "wild west" nature of some mobile apps and highlighted the need for transparency in the development process. Ethical considerations, especially in the context of AI and machine learning, were discussed as essential components in ensuring responsible innovation.

Challenges in the Healthcare Tech Space:

All the panellists identified key challenges, including the rapid pace of technological change, lack of collaboration between scientists, developers, and clinicians, and inscrutable algorithms. The issue of diversity and biases in natural language processing, methodological challenges in research, and the impact of healthcare worker stress on technology adoption were also highlighted.

Opportunities and Possibilities:

The conversation shifted to exploring possibilities in the rapidly evolving healthcare tech space. Examples like, a digital tool analysing patterns of well-being, showcased the potential for integrated solutions. The panellists envisioned a future where technology enables better understanding of the human experience, moving beyond medical biases, and offering more personalised and preventative healthcare.

Data Management and Data Sovereignty:

A critical theme that emerged was the importance of data management and data sovereignty. Panellists discussed the need for better integration, compliance, and ethical frameworks to address the challenges associated with data in healthcare. The potential for data to enhance decision-making while respecting individual sovereignty was emphasised.

This panel discussion served as an illuminating exploration of the intricate intersection between health, technology, and innovation with a focus on mental health. It underscored the imperative for concerted efforts, ethically grounded strategies, and a steadfast commitment to prioritising the needs of individuals to instigate transformative shifts in the healthcare landscape.

A resounding takeaway was the call for collaboration among diverse stakeholders, acknowledging the multifaceted challenges and opportunities presented by the evolving healthcare tech space. The emphasis on ethical considerations resonated as a guiding principle, emphasising the significance of maintaining integrity and ensuring that technological advancements are aligned with human welfare.

As the healthcare tech space undergoes continuous evolution, the imperative to address challenges head-on and capitalise on emerging opportunities becomes increasingly pronounced. 

This is pivotal in crafting a healthcare system that is not only more inclusive but also effective, ensuring equitable access and positive outcomes for all individuals. In essence, the panel discussion has set the stage for a dynamic and collaborative approach, steering the course towards a healthcare future that genuinely prioritises the mental health and wellbeing of every individual.


Co-Written by:  Jade Tang-Taylor (Otter.AI & ChatGPT-4 + AIPRM)

Originally published in academyEX

Date: Nov 2023

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