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Telehealth, Analytics Tools Impact the Work of Public Health

Offerings from companies like Lyssn and Biobot Analytics have the potential to majorly change not only how people access physical and mental health services, but how government responds to those needs.

two people facing each other, one holding a clipboard and pen, the other explaining their medical symptoms
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Technology vendors implementing their products in the public health sector have an opportunity to significantly impact health and well-being.

This is especially true with the rise of telehealth, which has become more common since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In Texas, a program called Texas Child Health Access Through Telemedicine (TCHATT) allows no-cost mental health care for children. Lainie McCorkle, Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium communications manager, told Government Technology in an email that within this system, specific tools are variable, dependent on the specific health-related institution, noting that most systems incorporate telehealth into their electronic medical record systems. For New York state, the Office of Addiction Services and Supports (OASAS) also uses telehealth to support students’ mental health. Like McCorckle, OASAS spokesperson Evan Frost told Government Technology via email that providers offering these services can choose whatever software they prefer, rather than leveraging tools from a specific vendor.

Within mental health services, specific tools can influence outcomes. One such tool is Lyssn, an AI-powered assessment platform for behavioral health, child welfare and 988 systems. 988, the new National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, is helping states like North Carolina enhance their existing suicide lifeline services for constituents, which leverages the Vibrant platform for chat and text. Tech like Lyssn can act as a force multiplier.

Essentially, the tool records, transcribes and analyzes the interactions of health services providers, helping both document those interactions and improve training with performance-based feedback and evidence-based treatment approaches. According to Jenny Cheng, leader of the company’s public-sector division, Lyssn can help government agencies meet compliance requirements, reduce turnover and maximize funding opportunities. There is a requirement for a certain percentage of 988 sessions to be monitored for adherence to crisis assessment, and now Lyssn will do that in the background of all hotline sessions for its customers, explained Lyssn founder and CTO Mike Tanana. He foresees the tool’s continued evolution to help expedite connection to additional health services as needed.

Addiction is another major area of public health response that benefits from tech, specifically in mapping drug use. Tools like the Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program (ODMAP) can help paint a picture for communities. Another way to do this is through the monitoring of wastewater, as seen in localities like Marin County, Calif., where Biobot Analytics technology monitors wastewater for a variety of public health indicators, from the presence of COVID-19 and other illnesses to the presence of drugs like fentanyl or nicotine.

Biobot co-founder and President Newsha Ghaeli said the value for government agencies is that they are investing in a single, multicapability platform that can address a variety of community health challenges. And, notably, while not everyone in a community will be able or willing to go to a doctor’s office, every individual contributes to the content of a community’s sewer systems. In this sense, it offers governments a chance to make more proactive decisions in response to public health trends. “So, it’s very inclusive data that then in turn helps inform much more equitable policies and equitable decisions when it comes to public health,” Ghaeli said.

Biobot was developed rapidly in response to a February 2020 study projecting COVID-19; by March 2020, it was available to cities. Now, the company is working to add testing capabilities for other health conditions, substance use disorder treatments and emerging substances like xylazine, a strong tranquilizer that’s increasingly being seen in overdose deaths.

Ghaeli believes cities making this a permanent part of their infrastructure will help normalize the input of wastewater data into public health decision-making.

This article is part of a series looking at the gov tech companies bringing their expertise to areas seeing major growth in the market, which originally appeared in the January/February 2024 issue of Government Technology magazine. Click here to view the full digital edition online.
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.