/  October 8, 2014

OwlOutcomes: Tool for tracking mental health progress

“Do you have feelings of hopelessness?” “Are you nervous, anxious or on edge?”

Dr. Corey Fagan, Jon Hauser and Sarah Sanford want to know.

Their Kirkland, Wash.-based UW start-up, Mental Health Data Services, Inc., provides mental health questionnaires in a secure online system. The cloud- based software system, called OwlOutcomes, tracks patients’ answers, instantly graphs their progress and provides links to Best Practice treatment guidelines. This data allows mental health providers to collaboratively review the results with their patients and pivot treatment as needed. Two decades of research show that tracking progress using evidence based assessment measures leads to better patient outcomes in shorter periods of time.

Where does the name, OwlOutcomes come from?

Owls symbolize wisdom. Unfortunately, left to their own clinical judgment or “wisdom,” clinicians often overestimate or underestimate how well their patients are doing. Tracking progress using validated assessment measures improves patient outcomes and allows mental health professionals to enhance their clinical wisdom through science-based technology.

Corey Fagan, Chief Clinical Officer, Mental Health Data Services

Why online questionnaires?

“Mental health care is still very much in the dark ages,” explained Fagan, who also directs the University of Washington’s Psychological Services and Training Center. “Although the field is rapidly changing, the norm is still pencil and paper. To measure the treatment progress of a kid with ADHD without technology like ours, each week the kid’s parents would have to remember to take out the paper questionnaire and fill it in, the kid would have to remember to give a progress questionnaire to the teacher, the teacher had to remember to give it back to the kid and the kid’s parents had to retrieve it and be sure both parent and teacher questionnaires got back to the clinician. With OwlOutcomes, parents, teachers and patients all receive email invitations to complete their measures online. Results instantly become available to the treatment team, which enhances collaborative care.

Starting a company

Sarah Sanford, Chief Executive Officer, Mental Health Data Services

In 2013, the UW Center for Commercialization (C4C) finalized an exclusive license for the Mental Health Data Services’ intellectual property, propelling the new start-up into a $725 million-a-year mental health services market. Fagan, who co-founded the company with Hauser, started out as its CEO but quickly realized that the growing business needed a full-time CEO with business experience in the healthcare field. The co-founders recently hired Sarah Sanford, a former hospital administrator with extensive business experience to run the company. Today, Fagan serves as Chief Clinical Officer and Hauser is the company’s Chief Executive Officer.

Fagan and Hauser did not originally design the system to create a start-up. Enthusiastic feedback from associated UW mental health professionals and a $40,000 Technology Gap Innovation Fund (the former name of C4C’s Commercialization Gap Fund) in June 2009 showed Fagan and Hauser commercial possibility. Further funding from the Washington Research Foundation (WRF), C4C, New Ventures, the College of Arts and Sciences, the Psychology Department — and from friends and family – helped as well. The company is currently seeking angel investment.

The company’s future revenue may draw from more than just the assessment features the OwlOutcomes software provides. The collection of data the software collects may be valuable as well. De-identified data measuring the effectiveness of medication and other mental health treatments is in high demand. And the outcome tracking platform holds great potential for expansion into other health care fields like pediatrics, diabetes and pain management, where mental health problems often co-exist with physical problems.

In 2011, UCLA and UNC, Greensboro’s mental health clinics—the equivalent of Fagan’s clinic at UW—started beta testing the system. But the game-changer came from Seattle Children’s in late 2012.

“We built this thinking of just small clinics,” Fagan said. “But when Seattle Children’s came on board as a beta-tester, we realized we had something bigger than we ever imagined.”