Vancouver's Tickit Health transforms how providers approach mental health and lifestyle

The company's digital questionnaires help doctors plan their time with patients

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      The conversation around youth mental health is slowly improving in Canada. TV shows like 13 Reasons Why are helping to reshape the cultural zeitgeist around depression, and a spate of recent movies are reframing conditions like anxiety as treatable and manageable.

      Vancouver startup Tickit Health is moving the needle one step further, by helping youth to open up in a clinical setting.

      When kids arrive at the doors of a doctor’s office, they are typically presented with a paper questionnaire that asks them about their mental state and sexual health. Not only do they rarely fill them out, young people often don’t give truthful information, and the surveys are ignored by doctors.

      Dr. Sandy Whitehouse—whose experience includes the role of medical director and division head of pediatric emergency at B.C. Children’s Hospital—believed there could be a better way. By putting the questionnaire onto a digital platform and making it fun and engaging for youth, she hoped that the tool could help kids be more honest, and allow doctors to have conversations with a greater knowledge foundation. With Whitehouse as cofounder and CEO, the idea became the basis of Tickit Health.

      “Sandy [Whitehouse] was dealing with a lot of youths who were coming in at moments of crisis,” says Hatley McMicking, chief business development officer at the company. “No child wants to be filling out paperwork, let alone on their mental state. We’ve developed a specific screener that is based on preexisting psychosocial youth assessments, and adapted it to be more user-friendly. We’ve validated it so that we know the information is reliable, and now we get youth sharing more about their lifestyle than they normally would.

      “We’re identifying students that people thought were healthy, and they’re actually saying that they’re contemplating suicide,” she continues. “We are identifying students who are saying they’re sexually active when no one knew they were, so now they’re getting additional STD screening and education. Those are the achievements we’re proud of as a company.”

      One of the key features of the company’s surveys is their inclusivity. As well as offering specific options for trans or non-binary folks, Tickit changes the clinical language of certified questionnaires into youth-friendly statements. In doing so, the company has found up to a 400 percent increase in engagement with its mobile health assessments over paper equivalents.

      “Inclusivity is one of the biggest core values that we look at when designing our tools,” says McMicking. “We like to define, understand, and adapt to a person’s cultural ecosystem, so they can relate. So, for example, we’ve changed the language to be fitting and suited for our First Nations and Aboriginal populations in Australia. So certain slang that they might use we’ve put into the tool. That slang to me is not relevant. But if we can include those cultural pieces to make someone feel more respected, they’re now going to be more comfortable sharing that information.”

      A number of health organizations are using Tickit’s surveys to get more detailed, honest information from their patients. B.C. Children’s Hospital, Coast Mental Health, and Los Angeles Health Services have all used the company’s designs to help doctors spend time with individuals more efficiently, and allow health organizations to understand trends in the data among those visiting hospitals and practices. Tickit now counts 18 different clients across the U.S., Canada, and Australia, and is looking to expand into Europe, where it is developing questionnaires for understanding adults’ health and lifestyles.

      “We’ve had quite a bit of interest from countries there,” says McMicking. “We are looking to help patients more holistically in terms of what they are doing outside of the four walls of care, and how can we support them best.”

      Kate Wilson is the Technology Editor at the Georgia Straight. Follow her on Twitter @KateWilsonSays