Interview in MobileDoctors

Five question to: "Smart Counseling with TeddyApp"

Question 1: You are the founder behind Health startup: TeddyApp. tell us: What is TeddyApp?

We all work more, longer, and faster. We all get into a fight sometimes, we heard some bad news, or we just want to talk to somebody. It is for all these different situations that we develop TeddyApp. Because we think that healthcare should be much more than giving a band aid or a pill. It should also be: talking, supporting, and coaching.

TeddyApp is a mobile application to help people feeling better. We want to do this in two ways: by instantly connecting people with a counselor through mobile video-calls. And by showing people their own emotions during the conversations. This is comparable with the physical performance overview you get using apps such as Runtastic or SmartRunner.
To do this, we are developing an innovative technology for real-time emotional analysis of the conversations. This means that people do not have to fill in logs or questionnaires to keep track of how they are feeling. The app does everything by itself. Besides the obvious ease, there are two major benefits: on the one hand, people get insight in their emotions (emotional health tracking / quantified self); on the other hand, counselors get instant feedback on the conversation and, if needed, they can directly react on what is happening (smart coaching). 
Especially the emotional health tracking offers people an accessible and playful way to manage their emotional health. If you can see and measure it, you can manage and improve it —that is the basic idea behind it.

Question 2: What problem is TeddyApp solving? And how does it contribute to a more efficient healthcare system?

The way we currently think about —and therefore organise— our healthcare is reactive and episodic. In other words: we wait until we have a problem, and only then we take short and intensive action. The Dutch idiom: 'to put salve on the wound' applies here, and often results in long therapies that take months or even years. This situation in unsustainable. Also in mental healthcare, where it results in 6-months waiting lists and incredibly high costs. A report published by the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, tells that as much as 22% of the total Dutch healthcare budget of €90b goes to psychical care, making it the highest spending item.

With TeddyApp we would like to change this. We want to show that it is possible to look at emotional healthcare in a completely different way: in a way that is preventive and continuous. Everyday and empowering. We want to achieve this, first of all, by giving people a sense of control and ownership over their own emotional well-being. By understanding how you feel, you can also pay more attention to it and eventually improve it. What if we started to consider emotional healthcare not as 'sick-care' but as a part of being fit and healthy? What if 'stop stressing' and 'feeling better' became acceptable new years' resolutions, just like 'eating healthy' or 'quit smoking'? What if 'emotional coaching' became as trendy, commonplace and desirable as fitness coaching? What if teddyApp became the new Runtastic or Human for your emotion?

Question 3: How does the smart voice/video technology you use for TeddyApp work?

Without getting into too much detail, we can say we perform a real-time analysis on the audio and video streams. That is: on voice and image. We determine and measure a series of clues that have a direct correlation with certain emotions and psychological states. A simple example: talking faster may indicate you are stressed. And there are much more factors like these one. Obviously, one single clue, will not tell us much about how someone is really feeling. However, once we map many of these simultaneously, we can give an accurate analysis. We want to visualise this in a so-called 'emotional dashboard' that is direct and easy to understand for the user. And all this will happen in real-time. We are therefore working with some incredibly smart guys that develop the technology. Amongst them PhDs in computer science and neuropsychology. I'm incredibly proud of them and the possibilities they are opening up to our understanding of human emotions.

Question 4: What is the message you would like to give to professionals within healthcare that do not know yet how to relate to all these new (technological) developments?

Sometimes I notice that people are hesitant in front of new technologies because they fear these might endanger the human aspect of care. Therefore, they often imagine some sort digital version of the same traditional therapy, with the only difference being that there is no human contact. But new technologies have so much more to offer! Instead of this almost comparative approach whereby tradition and technology are competing, I believe it would be much more productive to consider new technologies as something that has the potential to open up a completely new perspective on what care can be and on what care can offer. That is, something that adds to the existing practices. 
In the specific case of TeddyApp: the emotional analysis can add to the existing practices new insights in the emotional functioning of people. This makes it an incredibly valuable tool to improve the quality of care.

In addition, our application acts as a platform for professionals. They can use TeddyApp to coach people in a most flexible way, from their mobile phone. Any healthcare professional can do this, just in a free hour you have in-between appointments. Or a full day if you want. With it, as a coach, you get extra visibility for yourself and your own practice. You can expand your professional network and gain new experiences. 
We work with the University of Padova and the eHealth Research Centre of the University of Twente to pilot the application. There are a lot of opportunities for healthcare professionals and we look forward hearing also from them what their needs are. 

Question 5: Who should we ask the next time our 'Five Questions'?

Yosef Safi Harb, founder at Happitech (Skip a Beat). The work they are doing in the field of heart beat tracking and the posing of it as a game is truly inspiring. 

My name is Michelle —art historian turned entrepreneur. I graduated cum laude from the Research Master Art and Visual Culture at the Radboud University Nijmegen and worked as communications/PR within the cultural sector (a.o. Royal Academy of Art and the Creative Industries Fund NL). A central question that moved me in my work was: how can we use new and digital technologies to make the cultural sector more accessible? And what is the role and meaning of heritage in a society where everything is about 'being connected' in the here and now? Slowly, I became increasingly involved in the web/technology/startup world. And now I founded my first startup: TeddyApp. Also here the question of accessibility is central: to make it easy for everyone to work on their own emotional health, just like they would work on their physical health by moving more and eating better. In a way that is preventive and without stigma.

This interview was originally published in Dutch on MobileDoctors.
Read the original interview here