The Queen’s Partnerships and Innovation (QPI) team supports the University’s strategic goal to build community partnerships and fully embed Queen’s in the community. With support from external funding, the QPI team offers numerous services, resources, and programs to support entrepreneurs, including those from Queen’s, and to accelerate the growth of startups and small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) within Kingston and Eastern Ontario.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 450 million people currently struggle with mental illness. Depression is one of the leading causes of disability and suicide is the fourth top cause of death for people between the ages of 15-29. WHO indicates that the gap between those who need help and those who can access care is quite substantial. It is an issue on a global scale.

The founders of OPTT Health, a SaaS platform that proactively triages and monitors patients to simplify the digital-first delivery of mental health services for care teams, aim to help fill that gap.

There is much less stigma around mental health than there used to be. Getting treatment is more normalized – how it is talked about in our communities and how we deal with it – through counselors, psychotherapists and/or psychologists. But with an increased demand for these services, there remains a gap in service availability.

“The waitlist for an initial evaluation can be anywhere from two to nine months,” says Dr. Mohsen Omrani, CEO and one of the founders of OPTT. “Psychiatric care has the greatest lag. But not everyone who is evaluated needs psychiatric intervention – we know that only about 15% do. The other 85% of the population can be supported with various forms of non-psychiatric care interventions. Our platform helps to bring this insight to the triage process, so that patients can rapidly be referred to the proper level of care, speeding the process and cutting down or eliminating that waitlist.”

OPTT Platform
A screenshot of the OPTT platform. Photo courtesy of Dr. Omrani.

OPTT’s algorithms work to ensure each patient who requires and requests care, is receiving the right care at the right time based on the input from the patient. This might be psychiatric intervention, it might be counseling resources or it might be independent homework. The platform also has pre-designed content that can be delivered to the patient from the clinician.

“Everyone’s needs are different. Some people need self-guided materials, some need low levels of care from a clinician, and some need more than that,” explains Dr. Omrani. “Our platform also helps to triage the levels of care.”

OPTT’s AI engine is focused on trying to understand and provide an accurate measurement of patients’ mental health status and provide resources and content to facilitate the care for the patient. In the cases of patients who can complete self-guided materials or low-level care, the patient completes the assignments from the clinician and the clinician provides feedback. Using this system, clinicians can handle 3-4 patients in one hour rather than just one person.

“Even if there was no issue with accessibility or money, our health care systems still cannot handle the volume and needs in the current process of one patient per hour,” says Dr. Omrani. “We need creative solutions to address the number of people looking for help.”

Mental health needs to be approached with the same degree of seriousness as any other physical health issue. Dr. Omrani explains that the solutions provided from the OPTT platform have been clinically validated for safety and efficacy. He explains that all content on the platform is connected to clinical trials or peer-reviewed articles to ensure validity.

The AI variables that determine an individual’s mental health status are connected to evidence-based research and clinical trials as well. While there is no single variable to defining mental health status, OPTT uses natural language processing as its primary evaluation marker.

“We chose to work with the variables that we think are the most important but, at the same time, we know there are other important variables – like pitch or tone of voice, sleep patterns, gait and posture, interest level of hobbies, or even changes in hygiene,” says Dr. Omrani.

A recent partnership with another SaaS company in the mental health space, Canary Speech, is helping to strengthen OPTT’s evaluation process. Canary uses pitch or tone to evaluate mental health. With Canary Speech, patients don’t need to write about their symptoms, but rather can leave voice impressions, allowing the platform to triage based on both the words used as well as the sound of a person’s voice. Canary is an add-on feature to the OPTT platform which works in concert with OPTT features.

The Canary partnership came about through networking at a conference last year. “They were very open to collaboration and the chemistry between our teams just clicked,” says Dr. Omrani.

Dr. Omrani acknowledges the pandemic has been a major catalyst for growth. “We are seeing growth in digital health and medicine across the board,” says Dr. Omrani. While digital technologies haven’t changed much in the last few years, the acceptance of these technology solutions through the pandemic, while everything shut down, created an openness in the health fields to start using more online platforms to deliver care and services.

OPTT is experiencing growth in partners, users, and team. The company recently hired two Masters’ students and one PhD graduate, all from Queens University. OPTT’s growth is also supported by numerous advisors with industry and technology expertise.

“We could not have gotten to this point if not for the great start we had through various incubators and accelerators,” says. Dr. Omrani. “Queen’s Partnerships and Innovation has paired us with some amazing advisors and support resources that have contributed to where we are now.” A member of Queen’s Startup Runway, OPTT has also completed DMZ’s Biomedical Zone, the Morgan Stanley Multicultural Innovation Lab in 2022, and the Endless Frontiers Labs from the New York University School of Business. OPTT has recently been shortlisted for the Centre for Aging Brain Health’s MC2 Program.

As CEO, Dr. Omrani is now finding himself in a position to offer advice to others. On January 26, 2023, Dr. Omrani joined Startup Grind for an inspiring discussion about his journey and lessons learned from his experience of growing a digital health company.

“If you have an idea that could change someone’s life – do it. Don’t wait for someone else to do it. Be the change you want to see,” Dr. Omrani said during the Startup Grind event. “If you want a new approach to something, you need to start doing it.”

As for what is next in OPTT’s future, Dr. Omrani says the company is focused on expanding into the US market.

“The Canadian healthcare system has a lot of catching up to do in terms of technology – they are one of the few industries still using fax machines!” he says. He adds that the US market is much more accepting of using technology in the medical digital health space. “We intend to integrate different technologies to provide a 360-degree view of patients’ mental status, and to become the ‘Intel chip’ in mental health practices, to facilitate robust measurement-based decision-making.”

To achieve the ultimate vision of global acceptability, OPTT is considering pursuing Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Software as a Medical Device approval. This is a complex, phased process that QPI’s Regulatory Advisor is helping to map out. Given the numerous resources assembled, OPTT is in a great place to tackle the challenge.

Queen’s Partnerships and Innovation is involved in several projects enabled with support from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario). Queen’s Startup Runway is offered through the Scale-Up Platform (SUP), an initiative supported by FedDev Ontario and led by Invest Ottawa in Eastern Ontario and in which Queen’s/QPI is a regional partner. The SUP Project provides programs and services to firms that are demonstrating high-growth or the potential for high-growth. QPI’s mentorship and advisory services for health innovation companies are offered through the Health Innovation Kingston (HI YGK Project), an initiative also supported by FedDev Ontario and led by the City of Kingston and in which Queen’s/QPI is a local partner. The HI YGK Project aims to encourage health-innovation focused startups and SMEs to develop and grow in Kingston.