Using smartphones and AI, psychiatrists get toolkit for remote assessment

Israel-based medical startup Montfort creates app to help diagnose and treat psychiatric disorders, transforming mental health into exact science

Illustrative image of a robot, Artificial Intelligence (AI); (PhonlamaiPhoto; iStock by Getty Images)
Illustrative image of a robot, Artificial Intelligence (AI); (PhonlamaiPhoto; iStock by Getty Images)

With the coronavirus pandemic pushing many medical appointments online instead of in person, the possibilities of telehealth may now include brain monitoring.

Montfort (Mon4t), an Israel-based medical startup specializing in neurological disorders, announced a new platform last week to help diagnose and treat psychiatric disorders.

Montfort uses smartphone technology and artificial intelligence to conduct remote brain monitoring and FDA-cleared digital neurological tests for patients with Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease and other conditions.

The platform is based on Brain Profiler, a new scientific method that examines mental disorders as brain disturbances, which can be diagnosed in a clinical manner. This new field aims to connect classical psychiatry with computational neuroscience.

Ziv Yekutieli, Montfort CEO (Courtesy)

“Psychiatry as a medical field is facing a major diagnostic challenge: today’s psychiatric diagnosis is based on a descriptive approach, relying solely on the patient’s description of their symptoms and the clinicians’ observation of that patient,” said Abraham Peled, chair of the psychiatric department at the Shaar Menashe Psychiatric Hospital and a lecturer in the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. Peled, a developer of the the Brain Profiler method, partnered with Montfort for the creation of the app.

Other medical fields, however, diagnose conditions through the symptoms that appear in specific places in the body. “For example, appendicitis is the infection (the pathology) of an organ in the body, the appendix. A psychiatric diagnosis such as ‘depression’ does not correlate to a specific organ in the body, nor does it define any pathology,” said Peled.

Psychiatrists thus have to make clinical decisions about patients based on subjective and non-quantitative data, which is gathered in short clinical visits that don’t necessarily fully reflect the patient’s actual daily life. This limits their ability to treat the patients optimally, the company said.

The new platform is based on Montfort’s previous EncephaLog solution, currently being used around the world in collaboration with a large number of hospitals, medical corporations and research institutions, including the Henry Ford Health System in the US and Queen Mary hospital in Hong Kong.

EncephaLog is an app that allows monitoring of motor, cognitive and psychiatric symptoms via smartphone sensors: it measures patients’ motoric reactions and does cognitive, memory and affective testing of feelings and emotions by having them respond to on-screen commands.

With AI and machine learning, the data is gathered to generate digital biomarkers, which can then be reviewed and analyzed by professionals in an online portal.

The new version expands Montfort’s original platform, and gathers a comprehensive collection of a wider range of indicators, like how much social interaction the patient has had, how active they have been and psychiatric ratings that can be self-performed — increasing the database and providing the analytics necessary for a more accurate and comprehensive diagnosis.

This information, complementary to any clinical data collected by a psychiatrist, can then be used in AI models to predict brain connectivity disturbances that could help explain a disorder.

Ziv Yekutieli, the company’s CEO and co-founder, said Montfort’s tools are applicable across a variety of psychiatric disorders, offering psychiatrists a toolkit of tests that they can give to patients. A psychiatrist treating someone for schizophrenia, for example, can pick the right digital markers from the toolkit — metrics that may be different from that of someone with Parkinson’s disease.

For Montfort, the idea is all about “remote patient monitoring,” which was especially important throughout the pandemic, Yekutieli said.

“We want to eliminate the need for face-to-face meetings,” he said. The future of neurology is shifting in this direction, which he believes is essential for proper treatment.

Yekutieli added that though other companies offer remote testing, he believes Montfort offers the most well-rounded opportunity to work on brain disorders.

“To the best of our knowledge, at least until this point, we offer the widest test coverage in terms of motor evaluation, cognitive evaluation and affective or mood-related digital markers,” he said.

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