Originally appeared in InnovationFWD, written by Shabaig Chatha.
Roughly 20 veterans commit suicide daily, according to the United States Department of Veteran Affairs. And about one out of five experience post-traumatic stress disorder in a given year. This is not just a Veteran disorder, however. 8 million Americans a year suffer from PTSD, and 52 million more suffer from anxiety.
To Chris Molaro, this is unacceptable.
An Army veteran and recent Wharton graduate, Molaro is the co-founder of NeuroFlow, a technology-enabled healthcare startup that monitors physiological data in real-time, including patients’ relaxation, stress, and engagement levels. Since closing a $1.25 million round and launching a beta platform in September of 2017, NeuroFlow has seen adoption in smaller private clinics across the country and the U.S. Olympic Training Center.
Inspiration from the Military
After graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 2010, Molaro led a platoon of 40 Soldiers in the Iraq War. He served for five years and attained the rank of Captain.
Upon returning from duty, Molaro witnessed the mental toll combat took on colleagues, friends, and brothers. Veterans struggled to receive adequate mental health treatment for service-related conditions, especially post-traumatic stress disorder. “I saw the inefficiencies of the mental health system, even that specifically tailored for veteran soldiers,” Molaro recalls.
Molaro resolved to design better mental health therapy for the veteran community, and he arrived at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business in 2015 with a plan of action.
That year, he was also selected to Penn’s InSITE Fellowship – a two year program focused on building leaders in entrepreneurship and technology. It was there that he met Adam Pardes, his eventual co-founder and a bioengineering PhD candidate at Penn’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Pardes’ love for “moving fast, grinding, and working with other smart people” aligned well with Molaro’s mission, and the two united with a mission to improve mental health outcomes.
Keeping Patients Committed to Therapy
NeuroFlow uses headsets to collect neurological data from patients via electroencephalogram (EEG) and Bluetooth heart rate monitors to collect heart rate data. Algorithms then distill this data into charts and simple metrics, making it digestible for both psychological professionals and patients.
Through NeuroFlow’s app, clinicians can monitor a patient’s response to simple and complex body activities during therapy. They can even track patients’ relaxation and stress levels between rehabilitation sessions, enabling them to determine the most effective treatments.
Often, there is a stigma associated with seeking therapy for mental health. In fact, research by the American Psychological Association finds that 20% of patients end therapy too soon due to stigma around treatment. To address this issue, NeuroFlow engages patients in therapy by empowering them to track their progress.
“You get better as you see it working,” notes Molaro.
Positive Feedback From Early Adopters
After developing an initial product in 2016, NeuroFlow won a number of accolades including the Wharton Venture Award, the Greater Philadelphia Veterans Network Shark Tank Award, and a research grant from the Bruce and Marsha Moskowitz Foundation.
With its recent seed round, including support from Philadelphia’s early-stage health IT fund, NeuroFlow plans to collect feedback from physicians and patients to enhance its product’s impact, with the goal of addressing mental health treatment of professionals across markets including the military, athletics, education, and corporate wellness.
Early feedback has been positive. 5PALMS, a women’s clinic in Ormond Beach, Florida for victims of substance abuse and sexual assault in the military, has been using NeuroFlow to support PTSD victims. 5PALMS Chief Clinical Officer Laurie Deckard had this to say about NeuroFlow’s app:
“The patient is able to see how they’re reacting to the material that’s being told to them … In therapy, you don’t always know that you’re making progress, but this way you can visibly see that you’re making progress.”
Although 5PALMS has only been using NeuroFlow for a few months, Deckard predicts “[it will] be something our patients really love.”
Additionally, Dr. Michael Platt, Director of the Wharton Neuroscience Initiative at Penn, has partnered with NeuroFlow with a conviction the company offers tremendous value to mental health providers at a time when increased access to biological data has made personalized mental therapy more viable.
NeuroFlow’s team understands the implications of the battle it’s fighting. A mission that began to increase the psychological wellbeing of war veterans can ultimately lead to better health outcomes worldwide. To this end, Molaro asserts his mission is far from complete:
“We’re successful when we have the 20 soldiers that commit suicide a day go to 0, and when the 52 million Americans that suffer from anxiety feel that they have an outlet to understand themselves better.” – Chris Molaro, CEO NeuroFlow