From near-death to mental health innovator: The BioBeats story

Healthcare | Interview | Technology

Business Leader recently met up with Dr David Plans, co-founder and CEO of digital health and AI start-up BioBeats to discuss how his company is innovating within the wearable tech space and helping people with their mental health.

Can you give our readers an overview of BioBeats?

At BioBeats, our mission is to be the pioneer in preventative mental health. We are creating clinically validated products that predict, diagnose and treat mental health disorders before they escalate into something more severe.

Our main product is BioBase, an app that shows users real-time data on their personal wellbeing. With the help of a wearable, we are able to collect biometric data too, such as sleep, activity and heart rate variability (HRV). When combined with in-app mood-tracking and executive function tests BioBase provides a comprehensive overview of one’s mental and physical wellbeing as well as the connection between the two, known as interoception.

What was the inspiration behind setting up the company?

BioBeats is extremely close to my heart. I’ll take you back to a moment in my life in 2003 to explain why. I was walking through Brussels airport and without warning, I passed out, was rushed to a hospital and flatlined in transit. Fortunately, I was shocked back into life and told that burnout was the cause of my near-death. I had overworked and starved myself to critically low health. Since then I have been researching and building BioBeats, a system that can help people to manage their mental health in the same way they do their physical health. The aim is to help people avoid getting to that critical stage.

How did it evolve from an entertainment app into what it is today?

With my background in artificial intelligence and programming, originally focussed on sound design and music, I started by developing an entertainment and musical biofeedback app, but with the increasing availability of wearable technology, wellbeing becoming more of a focus in business life and my own heart attack experience, the project evolved into something much more important. It became a company devoted to helping people achieve better mental, emotional and physical wellbeing.

How is your wearable tech helping companies monitor and prevent physical and mental health issues in the workplace?

We work with businesses who are committed to workplace wellbeing and who want to take a preventative approach to mental health. While the information we collect is completely private to each user, companies are able to learn through aggregated and anonymised data, to make better decisions around HR initiatives, employee wellbeing and culture.

In a recent deployment, involving more than 700 employees, BioBase improved mental health in the workplace and cut employee absence by 31%. What’s more, we calculated that this reduction in the length and number of sick days had resulted in a 54% decrease in costs for employers.

How is the company utilising AI?

Artificial Intelligence is at the heart of what we do. AI and Machine Learning applied to psychological, physiological and neurological data can be a powerful and positive disruptor in our collective approach to managing mental health. Each person is different, and providing an off-the-shelf solution for everyone can be counterproductive, if not dangerous. AI helps us personalise the experience to each user’s data, as well as identify patterns leading to disorder before it manifests itself more visibly.

What are the future plans for the company?

At BioBeats, we want to change lives, one beat at a time. While the use of machine learning techniques currently allows building models of mental disorder that help us assess mental wellbeing, in the near future, we’re going adapt these learning systems to interact with the user directly as voiced mental health assistants in order to drive forward hyper-personalisation of mental health prevention and digital therapeutics.

Another aspect of future digital therapeutics at BioBeats will involve personalised forms of biofeedback based on systems that sonify and visualise body signals in order to augment each person’s mind/body connection, which is known to suffer under stress.

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