Prior to the pandemic, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) was already reporting that the mental health system in Canada was under extreme duress and since the start of the pandemic that pressure has increased excessively. Add to that, many mental health professionals were not able to serve their patients in-person due to COVID restrictions, increasing the gap between the supply and demand for mental health even further.

Two Queen’s University professors have developed a tool that is proving to not only fill this gap but that can also improve access to care by allowing people to get mental health assistance on their own time, and in between appointments. Their digital mental health platform, the Online Psychotherapy Tool (OPTT), is an evidence-based therapy platform that includes assessment tools, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) content, exercises patients can complete on their own time and analytical tools that support clinicians with their decision making.

Photo Dr. Naz Alavi
Dr. Nazanin Alavi. Photo credit: OPTT

OPTT is a business-to-business, software-as-a-service virtual behavioral health platform designed to improve the efficiency of behavioral care delivery while supporting patients with everyday health challenges and enabling asynchronous patient provider communications. OPTT was co-developed by Nazanin Alavi, Assistant Professor, Psychiatry, and Mohsen Omrani, Adjunct Assistant Professor, Psychiatry, in 2018, with the vision to transform the way we think about and practice mental healthcare, to globally improve outcomes.

“OPTT’s disease specific, pre-designed therapeutic modules help patients develop skills and knowledge necessary to manage their behavioral health challenges while being supported by clinicians in the comfort of the patient’s own environment,” says Dr. Alavi, Psychiatrist, and one of the pioneers of online CBT. “OPTT’s clinically validated streamlined solutions and proprietary AI algorithms equip care providers with the smart tools designed to support, monitor, and interact with their patients, while increasing their efficiency by four times.” Dr. Alavi is currently the co-psychiatrist in chief at the Department of Psychiatry at Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC).

OPTT’s proprietary therapy modules are designed based on the outcomes of Dr. Alavi’s research and validated through more than ten clinical trials. In addition, patient generated data and AI driven analytics allow clinicians to personalize the content, duration and course of therapy and allow health organizations to allocate appropriate resources to different patients, based on their needs.

Photo of Dr. Mohsen Omrani
Dr. Mohsen Omrani. Photo credit: OPTT

“Through these solutions health organizations can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of behavioral care delivery resulting in improved patient outcomes and enhanced access to quality behavioral health resources. Simultaneous improvement of care efficiency and efficacy and longitudinal approach to mental health can significantly lower the acute and chronic cost of care,” says Dr. Omrani, CEO of OPTT. Dr. Omrani is a medical doctor and has a PhD in neuroscience. He has extensive background in clinical and basic science research and in-depth expertise in data analysis, developing new analytical approaches and machine learning algorithms.

The OPTT team is composed of 10 individuals: three full time and two part time employees, two contractors, and three board advisors, in addition to a team of 15 offshore developers and graphic designers.

Commercially, OPTT was able to land multi-year contracts with two of the top three telemedicine companies in Canada and is now looking to expand its business south of the border.

“To meet these aspirations, OPTT is finalizing its seed round fundraising, expanding its team both in the US and Canada. These include traditional enterprise roles like customer support manager, marketing specialist, data scientist, and software developers to be hired in Kingston and Toronto,” says Dr. Omrani.

Additionally, OPTT intends to expand its academic and research collaboration with Queen’s University, hiring two or three graduate students/postdocs through programs like Mitacs Accelerate and Elevate. These will include students working in data science (engineering), business development (Smith School of Business) and mental health research (Department of Psychiatry).

One of the early adopters of the platform was close to home. In March 2020, Queen’s University’s Student Wellness Services (SWS) developed a hybrid service model, which includes OPTT. Thirty counsellors now have the option of using OPTT in the care they provide to students.

“OPTT is a digital-first alternative to traditional talk therapy and can suit students with roommates or a living situation where they don’t have total privacy,” says Dr. Alavi. “It’s a helpful option for post-secondary institutions that are working to meet ever-increasing demand for mental health services as it provides access to evidence-based therapy that is fully customizable and interactive.”

SWS Counsellor Amber McCart has been using OPPT with some of her clients who need support for anxiety, depression and to manage powerful emotions. She says the modules help students quickly understand the mechanics behind how they are feeling and behaving.

"As a psychotherapist, I work alongside to make sure the process aligns tightly with their concerns and strengths. Usually, students can experience improvement in mood and coping quickly," she says.

OPTT is also being used by the Queen’s University Online Psychotherapy Lab (QUOPL) and by the Department of Psychiatry at KHSC. They are quickly expanding their collaborations across the Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington regions.

“The great thing about OPTT is that it offers smart care plans to mental health providers to continuously measure, predict and manage patients’ behavioral health needs anytime, anywhere,” says Dr. Alavi.

OPTT has won multiple clinical and academic excellence awards, including 2018 Mental Health Innovation Zone award by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). Recently OPTT was selected as a quarter finalist at the UCSF Health Awards and within the Top 10 mental health companies by Health Tech Challengers.

“Queen’s Partnerships and Innovation (QPI) has been very helpful in getting the company launched and is now supporting our growth objectives,” says Dr. Omrani, from the technology’s development as part of a startup that incubated under QPI at Innovation Park, and more recently as OPTT Inc.

“QPI is now providing support to OPTT under our Growth Catalyst program”, says Janice Mady, Director, Research and Innovation Partnerships. “We are currently supporting the company’s growth objectives by providing connections to potential collaborators in the United States via the Kingston-Syracuse Pathway, an initiative that is being co-led in Canada by QPI and the Kingston Economic Development Corp., and by identifying and facilitating funding and collaboration opportunities via Queen’s to advance OPTT’s technology development and its access to talent.” QPI’s Partnerships Development team also provided support to Dr. Alavi in the finalization of her recent grant proposal to the Canadian Institute for Health Research.

The Growth Catalyst program and the Kingston-Syracuse Pathway initiative are offered as part of the Health Innovation (HI YGK) Project, led by the City of Kingston and supported with funding from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario.

For more information about OPTT, visit the OPTT website.