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Healios aims to bring therapy and guidance in an easy, accessible, and affordable way to anyone who experiences a traumatic event, but doesn't have the…


Developer Kevin Kim lived through Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and saw the deep impact the storm had on close friends — not only on physical belongings and health, but on their mental well-being. One of Kim’s friends, for example, had a tree crash through his roof, and though no one was physically hurt, dealing with the insurance and finances after the storm took a heavy toll on his friend.

The experience spurred Kim and his teammates — Christopher McKinney, Sunjae Shim, Tony Park, and Xuelong Mu — to join forces and create Healios, an online platform that uses a conversational interface and AI to help connect those who need mental healthcare with the right case worker. The team’s solution has been named a top-five finalist in the Call for Code 2019 Global Challenge.

Team Healios Pictured: (Bottom row from left) Kevin Kim, Tony Park, Sunjae Shim, (top row from left) Xuelong Mu and Christopher McKinney

“There are a lot of stressors that are being constantly inundated with needs that pop out of nowhere, that they never had to deal with,” Kim said. “With Healios, you can always rely on getting your thoughts through to someone, even if it is a chat bot, eventually a social worker will analyze what you’re saying, and help you get the resources you need. If you need to see a therapist, they’ll hook you up with a therapist nearby.”

Healios aims to bring therapy and guidance in an easy, accessible, and affordable way to anyone who experiences a traumatic event, but doesn’t have the current means or ways to get the help they most certainly need. In her research as a psychology student, Sunjae Shim said she found that almost 30-40 percent of the people who experienced Hurricane Harvey still have re-occurring memories of the traumatic incident, even after time had passed.

The team wanted to bring mental health resources quickly and easily to victims while also using the tech to help de-stigmatize mental health issues and normalize the act of seeking mental health care.

How it works

Healios solution diagram

Healios works through two avenues: a mobile view for the patient and a web view for social workers and medical personnel. The victims communicate via their mobile device to speak with medical professionals with the help of the team’s IBM Watson application. The web view for medical professionals is a dashboard for them to be able to handle all of the cases, and to get an overall birds eye view of a patient’s state and overall mental well-being.

The IBM technology starts working as soon as the user logs in. The initial onboarding session is done with a Watson Assistant chat bot that asks users questions, such as how they’re feeling, what their stress levels are, and what they feel anxious about. The data is processed by natural language understanding and personality insights, which is then parsed to figure out if what a person is experiencing.

After the patient submits responses where the data is parsed, Watson Natural Language Understanding helps sort the emotions the user is experiencing and highlights them for any counselor who’s reviewing the data. From the data, counselors and medical professionals can make a more accurate and more efficient way of counseling and diagnosing and interface back with the user who submitted the questionnaire.

What’s next

By making high-quality mental health care accessible to all, Healios has the potential to profoundly change the way individuals cope with the long-lasting mental health issues following traumatic events — not just natural disasters.

“At the ground level, we really want Healios to be about changing the way people first and foremost perceive mental health care and making it more accessible, making it a lot more easy to participate in,” team member Christopher McKinney says. “But at the same time, expanding it beyond the scope of just natural disaster victims.”

Another goal for the future of Healios is more research on the psychological consequences and outcomes that disaster victims experience after a natural disaster, to gain a better understanding through more data points. Because of the lack of information around mental health and natural disasters, the team wants to ensure they approach it from the right way. They hope to gain information from more studies as these natural disasters happen. For example, the team will look at the research and findings from the recent hurricane in The Bahamas to potentially integrate into their Healios platform.

“We want to create a world where going to take care of your mental health is as normal as going to the gym or going in for a regular checkup,” Xuelong Mu said. “We want to de-stigmatize the associations with finding a therapist or getting help. And eventually we’d like to make our platform accessible to anyone for a variety of conditions to try and get some help and improve their mental health.”

Jina Kim