Brain Resource (San Francisco, CA) specializes in developing cognitive assessments and tools to improve brain health. The company, which announced a partnership with Aetna last month, will begin working with St. Gregory Retreat Center (Des Moines, IA). The treatment center will implement Brain Resource’s MyBrainSolutions and WebNeuro products to help assess and improve the cognitive and emotional capacities of patients undergoing drug and alcohol treatment.
In this interview with Medgadget, Gregory A. Bayer, Ph.D., CEO of Brain Resource’s U.S. operations, discusses the company’s recent partnership with St. Gregory Retreat Center, his views on the importance of cognitive training in behavioral healthcare, and the use of Web-based tools to help treat ADHD in children.
Brian Klein, Medgadget: Can you tell us a little about your background?
Gregory A. Bayer, Ph.D: I trained as a clinical psychologist and spent 25 years plus in clinical practice and managed behavioral healthcare. I was the former CEO for OptumHealth Behavioral Solutions, a United Health Group’s subsidiary, before I joined Brain Resource in January, 2012. I came to Brain Resource because I thought cognitive training was the next paradigm shift for behavioral healthcare. So I come to my post at Brain Resource from a point of view of having been in clinical practice and having managed behavioral health programs for not only United but also Aetna and Magellan Health Services. I was the one who originally brought Brain Resource to the United States as CEO of Optum Behavioral Solutions. We found them at a conference around 2006 and I signed them in 2007 to a three-year exclusive deal that expired in December, 2010. I left Optum in late 2010 and joined the company here in 2012.
Medgadget: What was the company like back in 2007?
Bayer: It was largely science based. The origins of the company were in a scientific grant by the government of Australia to our founder, Evian Gordon, Ph.D., to begin assembling a standardized database of brain features, if you will. Cognitive aspects of the brain and that expanded into other aspects such as imaging, personality tests, various types of biomarkers—heart rate, sweat rate, galvanic skin response, and other things of that nature. So his idea was to standardize various measures of the brain and in standardizing them, achieve a consensus in the field for integrating various aspects of neuroscience through a standardized methodology. This allowed scientists to measure different things and by measuring them with standardized protocols, you could aggregate the data from studies across the world and that would give you the power to mine it for insights.
Medgadget: That sounds like kind of a harbinger of a lot of what is going on in medicine lately in terms of its flirtation with “Big Data” and mining health metrics to reach improved understanding. We’ve heard a lot about that topic lately.
Bayer: Yes. Evian’s efforts started 20 years ago. The awareness and the importance of “Big Data” and the importance of the brain is now in the forefront. The efforts that have resulted in the products that you have heard about, those really started 20 years ago. The Optum contract allowed the company to productize it for large-scale commercial applications.
Medgadget: What can you tell me about the more recent news about the St. Gregory Retreat Center?
Bayer: It is an opportunity to really put our WebNeuro assessment and MyBrainSolutions, which is the combination of the WebNeuro assessment and the 30 odd brain exercises, into a rehabilitation program for those who have suffered from profound chemical or substance use, and to really help them regain an understanding of their brain strengths and potential areas of deficits—so strengths and weaknesses. The system can then provide them with an opportunity to actually train cognitive abilities that are important for their recovery as well as resuming their vocational roles and normal activities in daily living. In sobriety, it is important to begin to understand the impact of chemical use—whether it is alcohol, or other drugs, on the brain, and then to understand the recovery process. We look to rebuild and strengthen those brain-based skills that are important in recovery.
Medgadget: So, for instance, if there is a patient who is lacking in self control or some kind of trait that makes them more susceptible to chemical dependency, you can help address those kinds of issues with the software?
Bayer: We can. That is a great example. Self-regulation is an important part of managing one’s daily life and also resisting the cravings that come in a period of recovery. By training the brain to shift attention from a craving to another activity you encourage an important cognitive skill that underpins sobriety. The software has the ability to help patients work on self-control, attention, concentration, and memory so that you are addressing what could potentially be defects because of chemical abuse. Recovering some of that ability to recall and fortify working memory is an important aspect of brain health.
Medgadget: How does the program help foster memory? Can you walk me through an example?
Bayer: Sure. There are a variety of exercises that challenge memory. They start at a very simple level of remembering where a face occurred in a matrix. And go from there to test the ability to remember multiple faces. There is another one that looks at the memory of a name with a face and, again, it starts out very simplistically and adds more people and names or occupations. There are games that also work on executive function, where you actually have to work your way through a maze that involves memory and judgment.
It is important to note that it trains both cognitive and emotional skills. A lot of training that is around today is purely cognitive in nature but our exercises cover both cognition and emotion. And we think that is a very important part of the brain not to be overlooked.
Medgadget: What kind of programs do you have to help people better regulate emotion?
Again, it is recognition of feelings—being able to read emotions correctly in others so you can differentiate emotional states. Some of exercises include recognizing a happy face in a sea of faces that are either sad, mad, glad, or frightened. Others test the patient’s ability to recognize different facial queues that are associated with different emotions.
It is really important to emphasize the emotional aspects and the cognitive aspects of what we call brain health. We are in the market to promote brain health and the assessment gives you an understanding of your personal strengths and potential areas of weakness, your vulnerabilities as well as your assets. The exercises are there to fortify and expand cognitive skills. For us, that is an important piece: that overall concept of brain health and moving away from the stigma associated with mental health, so to speak, that still resides in society today. We want to help promote the concept of brain health and deal with things that interfere with it.
Medgadget: How common is it for institutions like St. Gregory’s to use a system like this?
Bayer: This is cutting edge. Most of the science to date has been done in academic and laboratory kinds of settings. And this is a real world application. They are using other kinds of therapies like a behavior therapy as part of their treatment program and this is a supplemental treatment that will be offered to their patients.
Medgadget: How does the WebNeuro segment differ from the other Brain Resource applications?
Bayer: WebNeuro is embedded in the MyBrainSolutions applications but it is also a standalone application. It is a series of standardized neuropsychological tests that we have put on the Web. They take you through a series of exercises where you are measured in terms of response speed, the correctness of choice, the decision of alternatives—things of this nature. And your responses to the tests, are compared against normative samples which gives you a strengths/weaknesses profile.
Medgadget: Is there anything else on the horizon at Brain Resource that you can discuss?
Bayer: In the latter part of June of this year, we will be launching a website dedicated to parents who have children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). There will be a child portal as well as a parent portal, and the two will interact and enable the child to train cognitively in ways that will strengthen their brains to help them manage attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. For parents it will be a way for them to get an assessment of their child’s brain health and the likelihood of ADHD. They will be able to monitor the child’s work on the exercises and develop goals for them on the site. They can then reward them for completion.
The other piece of this will be a section to aggregate information parents can use to organize who their resources are in the community—such as a psychiatrist or a tutor. They can also use it to track or trend medication dosages. It will be like an information bank that will allow them to see the progression of their child’s performance brain-wise in the exercises and how that can be compared to medication dosages. They will be able to track that information so they could get a view from, say, third grade on if they stay with the program.
The site will be our first condition management product. The combination of the assessment, the exercises, and what we call a parent tool kit. It will be a consumer product but it can also be purchased as an upsell for employers who have MyBrainSolutions as part of their wellness package. That is where Aetna comes in. They will be distributing it to employers.
Link: Brain Resource…