By Aditi Peyush
In February 2020, the first case of coronavirus was detected in the U.S., months after it had begun to spread rapidly in other parts of the world. In the age of digital connectedness, the media informs us about the pandemic and its effects on our lives. At the same time, digital technologies are critical to solving the virus itself and tackling public health issues.
Among the many Khoury community members addressing COVID-19 in their work and research, Glen Coppersmith has turned his attention to the pandemic – and its effect on mental health. A founder of Qntfy, a company that operates at the intersection of human behavior and data, Coppersmith recently launched Quinn, a mental health app for front-line health care professionals. It gets its name from Gaelic origins, meaning wise or counsel, which is central to what it provides for the user.
The development of Quinn was accelerated by what Qntfy saw using its Cohort Analytics Platform (CAP), which helps them provide insights into cohorts – or groups of people – to their clients. On March 20, while sifting through the data CAP was collecting, collaborators at Qntfy saw that the mental well-being of healthcare workers and the general public was starting to decline. Looking at the patterns, Coppersmith asked himself, “If you have a population you care about, how do you understand them? How do you figure out what’s going on?”
Quinn, the app, sends text messages with quotes that the user is able to respond to with approval or disapproval. The message shows up at times permitted by the user. Explains Coppersmith, “You’ve invited us into your life and have basically told us the parameters you want to engage on.” Preceding COVID-19, Qntfy had been working on Quinn and beta testing when they noticed they had solid retention rates after six months. “Five times the expected retention rate,” chimed Coppersmith, who attributed the high retention rate to the intrinsic value of the messages sent to the participants. “Inspiration, famous quotes, wisdom, entertainment, humor – the AI learns what you like as you react to it.”
Coppersmith says that they built the messages from Quinn based on the peer-reviewed literature from cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness, along with the literature surrounding things correlated with positive psychology and wellness (e.g., hydration, sleep, focus, and exercise). He adds, “That’s more rigor than is put into most mental health apps.”
While Qntfy didn’t plan to launch Quinn for a few months, a crystalizing conversation Coppersmith had with his sister, an ER doctor, motivated them to launch it sooner. One day she mentioned to him that she wanted to share it with some of her colleagues, that everyone was tired, exhausted, and “could use a little something.” She had been a prototype user of the app and believed it had the potential to help her cohort.
“My sister on the frontlines of this crisis was powerful testimony to me,” says Coppersmith. “I’m looking at the mental health of the cohorts that we’re tracking – watching everyone’s anxiety and depression rise made it clear that we had a mental health crisis coming.” He realized he had something “sitting on the shelf and was testing,” he remarks, which could help others immediately.
Early mentors and faculty members gave Coppersmith the traction to pursue his interdisciplinary focus like his PhD advisor, Richard Melloni, Jr., professor in NU’s Department of Psychology, and more recently Carla Brodley, dean of Khoury College. He recalled Melloni lecturing him on the data of patients with clinical levels of aggression, explaining the importance of understanding a dataset in order to understand patients and design treatments. Glen is inspired by the way Dean Brodley has facilitated the interdisciplinary direction which computer science is going in. “Computer science is a great tool, and it’s best used in conjunction with other disciplines.”
Coppersmith also praises his peers – fellow students in class and co-ops – and what he calls Northeastern pragmatism. “I’ve worked with a lot of people from Northeastern throughout my years, and a common thread that we all have is this hard desire to be pragmatic and a positive influence in the world and not in a theoretical way.” He met one of his Qntfy co-founders, Alex Yelskiy, on his first co-op.
Qntfy provides Quinn to healthcare providers and essential workers free of cost during this time. And, as one would expect from a graduate of Northeastern, they are working to rigorously evaluate the clinical efficacy of Quinn itself, while using it to get the best evidence-informed information to the people who can most benefit from it. “It’s going out to people who need it,” says Coppersmith. Looking back, he says, “We were not going to wait to push this out, when there was a clear need, and the evidence we had thus far indicated it might be exactly what was needed.”
People can sign up for Quinn for free during the pandemic at https://healthcare.quinn.ai.
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