Tennessee HIMSS honored World Mental Health Day on Oct. 10 with an early morning event centered on behavioral health and its relationship to primary care. Attendees listened to experts in addiction, suicide, psychiatrics, and EHR speak on the way that they and their teams are leading innovation in behavioral health spaces.

Dr. Colin Walsh, assistant professor of biomedical informatics, medicine and psychiatry at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, began the morning with an in-depth presentation on his research using AI and machine learning to predict the likelihood of attempted suicide among patients. His team’s research has been shown to be effective, helping them determine different preceding factors that occur in adolescents versus adults, understanding the role outpatient engagement can have in mitigating risk, and developing a model that, in 2018, reported 84 percent success in predicting whether someone would attempt suicide in the next two weeks.

“We want to inform preventive efforts by identifying those at risk,” Walsh said. “My team and teams like mine really around the country and around the world are facing head on the suicide epidemic. In America alone, by the end of the day today, 123 Americans will die by suicide. 22 of those are veterans. 13 of those are adolescents and children, so we’re in the midst of a crisis. We, like many other groups, are looking for means of better identifying risk of suicide to give us a chance to act before self harm has occurred.”

Throughout the presentation, Walsh noted that the data and algorithms were neither perfect nor even complete. The original data, pulled from decades of electronic health records, was not taken with this exploration in mind, and many of the metrics the algorithm is based on, like zip code, Walsh will be the first to admit are less than ideal.

Still, his and his teams’ hopes are that the algorithm will be able to help reduce some of the work for already busy providers by giving them information about the patient that they might not otherwise notice in the thousands of data points that are present in health records. Earlier this summer, he was part of a group of 25 or so suicide experts at Vanderbilt that came together to brainstorm and iterate on all the various steps they are taking to prevent suicide.

“Focusing on the problem, you’re never going to go wrong,” Walsh told the audience.

Walsh’s keynote was followed by a panel discussion, moderated by Lisa Henderson, co-founder and COO of Synchronous Health, and featuring Adam Graham, director of emergency psychiatric services for the Mental Health Cooperative; Justin Lanning, president and CEO of 180 Health Partners; James Norton, CEO of Vanderbilt Psychiatric Hospital; and Brandi Sanders, senior director of client services at Qualifacts.

Each of the panelists brought different backgrounds and expertise to the event, but all shared a similar passion for community level solutions to behavioral health problems.

“One of our true north statements is that relationships always trump process in science,” Lanning said.

Lanning’s work centers on opioid addiction among pregnant mothers, and told the audience that they would be shocked to know that 92 percent of babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome were born to mothers who saw a doctor and asked for help to fight addiction, but saw no engagement. His social enterprise business works to address addiction needs in a holistic and communal way, which he says often means not trying to “fix” everything, but rather giving people the space to be just that – people.

Graham echoed that sentiment when talking about his emergency service clients, who are passionate about giving back the support they’ve received to others, as peer mentors and members of the community.

Meanwhile, Norton and Sanders work on the more administrative side of healthcare, building out support for the providers to enable them to do the best work possible for their clientele. Sanders spoke of the way her company builds care into its own operations, remembering a time that a program rollout was put on pause in order to give a coworker adequate time to recover from a behavioral health challenge. Norton talked about pushing back against the compartmentalization of mental health in healthcare, emphasizing the need for healthcare providers across disciplines to be trained to consider mental and behavioral health throughout their practice.

Tennessee HIMSS President Eric Thrailkill wrapped up the event, thanking the guests and audience for their engagement and passion in the mental health space.

“We talk a lot about what’s so broken in healthcare and today we talked about what’s right.”

This blog post was contributed by Sam Zern of The Nashville Entrepreneur Center. The Tennessee HIMSS chapter is a friend to the EC’s Project Healthcare, which supports healthcare entrepreneurs in their work to shape the future of healthcare.