My Take (#1) on Becky Inkster’s Digital Innovation in Mental Health Conference: Beware of Impatient Money’s Potential to Harm DMH’s Trust

Back on July 17–18, I was priveleged to be a part of the Digital Innovation in Mental Health Conference in London, UK. This gathering of stellar digital mental health (dmh) colleagues spanning research, policy, provider orgs, public health and business. It was also cool to see representation from the UK, EU, Australia, Africa, China, Europe, India, North America, Singapore and the UK.

The theme of the meeting was “Trust”. Refreshing was the focus on how trust can be built as a condition for greater dmh adoption, and yield more population and individual benefit. I am used to going to conferences where the primary focus is how to we make money. Starting with trust, on the assumption that trust yields money, was a notable pivot in my perception, and I think, a better start.

As I like to limit the length of my reads, I will carry this discussion over multiple posts in the form of “takes” I derived from the conference. Here is Take #1. me jump in:

Take #1 — Beware of Impatient Money’s Potential to Harm DMH’s Trust

In many years of working in and teaching business, I have come to appreciate the paradox where every successful business seems to initially build on cultivation of trust of investors, stakeholders and customers. This earned trust is then too often tipped over into greed and dishonesty, with corresponding alienation of regulators, stakeholders and customers. This scenario seems irresistable in highly successful scenarios. May we find a way to minimize this fate in the dmh space. Such avoidance starts with this consideration of trust.

In line with the conference theme of Trust, a Day 1 panel discussion, moderated by Niall Boyce of Lancet Psychiatry, touched on the hazards of “overpromising” and really resonated with me.

We all appreciate how investor short-termism, aka, “impatient money”, can drive founders and companies to overpromise to get funding and then to take shortcuts to fullfil on the promises made. Barnaby Perks of Oxford VR, and panelist, touched off a panel discussion which focused on the call for cultivation of an ecosystem culture that accounts for time to:

1) bring clinical and payor stakeholders & customers along,
2) establish a solid clinical, scientific and medical evidence base, and
3) create a virtuous sustainable cycle in terms of usability, security and affordability.

There is recognition that this will take extraordinary, leadership, intention and expectation setting, and that this is our task as leaders in this space.

It was also resonant, but also daunting, to my inner commercial professional, to hear throughout this conference cohort, that cost savings should be avoided as a primary rationale for the adoption of digital in the mental health space. Rather, we should have more primary focus on:

1) sticky user experience,
2) more precise therapeutic approaches, aka, precision mental social & health care,
3) expanded population access and benefit, and
4) better validated and measured outcomes, etc.

It is plain, at least to me, to see how these alternate foci create trust, adoption, and by extension savings, and even revenue. The premise of the conference was, “trust things first”. I agree with this prioritization. How to continually operationalize it so it is the rule and not the exception is the challenge.

As an [informal] investor, I get the impatience. As a caregiver and advocate, I wish for patience. I also know that the truth of execution will be somewhere in the middle.

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Be well.

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