Health-tech firm TryCycle, Royal Ottawa partner on platform to detect suicide risks


An Ottawa company that uses artificial intelligence to predict when patients need mental health treatment is teaming up with the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre to help pinpoint people at risk of suicide.

TryCycle Data Systems makes a smartphone-based platform that tracks patients with mental health and substance abuse issues. The three-year-old startup, which has eight paid employees, works mainly with hospital systems and health-care insurers in the United States.

Users receive regular prompts to answer questions related to their mental health. TryCycle’s AI technology then analyzes the data to determine if patients are experiencing more severe symptoms or are at risk of relapsing. 

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The company’s system also collects data in more passive ways such as tracking smartphone use to detect changes in sleeping patterns that could be a sign of depression or other illnesses, for example. 

Therapists can view the results in real time on a dashboard, allowing them to quickly intervene if necessary. 

TryCycle founder and CEO John MacBeth calls his firm’s technology “behavioural radar” that can alert therapists to potential mental health crises before they happen.

“Imagine what we could do if we were able to reach out and bring you in to care days, weeks, eventually months earlier than you even knew that you were at risk,” he says.

Last week, researchers at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre said they are working with the company on an AI platform that analyzes social media to predict suicide risks.

Dr. Zachary Kaminsky’s team at the Royal has spent the past two years developing an algorithm that analyzes speech patterns in users’ Twitter accounts and looks for warning signs that people could be thinking about taking their own lives. 

Kaminsky says the Royal’s platform can give therapists a fairly detailed picture of a patient’s mental health even before an actual meeting.

“Because our AI can go back in time and score things that happened with the person in the last year or the last six months, it gives a visual profile of their periods of stress,” he explains. 

TryCycle is now hoping to integrate the technology into its platform to provide another layer of detection to its early-warning system.

“It’s not a big, heavy, complicated technology,” MacBeth says. “If there’s a better mousetrap, we should go out there and get it. By applying Zack’s ideas, we believe that TryCycle can get even more proficient in what we do.”

MacBeth says TryCycle, which is offering its platform for free during the COVID-19 crisis, is seeing “exponential growth” in the use of its technology south of the border. He says the company is currently in talks with a number of Fortune 50 companies, including some of the world’s largest insurance providers, about signing on to the TryCycle platform.


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