Dr Isaac Galatzer-Levy on How Predicting PTSD Can Improve Psychiatric and Physical Health Outcomes

July 13, 2019

Intervening early when someone is at risk for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can drastically improve their outcomes, but current predictive methods are lacking, according to Isaac Galatzer-Levy, PhD, assistant professor in psychiatry and bioinformatics, NYU School of Medicine, and vice president of clinical and computational neuroscience, AiCure.

Intervening early when someone is at risk for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can drastically improve their outcomes, but current predictive methods are lacking, which is where artificial intelligence (AI) and other technology will come in, according to Isaac Galatzer-Levy, PhD, assistant professor in psychiatry and bioinformatics, NYU School of Medicine, and vice president of clinical and computational neuroscience, AiCure.

Transcript

How do you envision predictive AI apps being used to complement or replace more traditional predictive methods?

We really don’t have good predictive methods in the context of posttraumatic stress. This is a really wide-open field in that way. We don’t know who is at risk, and so we can’t best give out the resources we already have available. So we’re really starting from a position where we really cannot do very much. Somebody comes into an emergency room, they were just hit by a car, or they were assaulted, and we really have no idea what their clinical course is in terms of their psychiatric outcomes. By being able to spot that risk, we can then deploy the resources that we already have available to us to really improve that patient’s outcome. That can have huge effects in the long term.

So I’ll give you an example: Roughly 10% of people after a heart attack will develop PTSD. This has been demonstrated repeatedly, those who develop PTSD after a heart attack are at greatly increased risk for a second heart attack. But the cardiac clinic is not well equipped to identify those individuals at risk and/or to intervene. If we can spot those individuals at risk, we can have an effect on their psychological health, but also a huge effect on their physical health. The reason that patients who have heart attacks and develop PTSD have a greater incidence of a second heart attack is because one of the core symptoms of PTSD and also depression is avoidance-type behavior. We avoid thinking about the event, we have trouble with motivation, and that interferes with the real health activities we have to do, like take our medication, change our diet, change our physical activity, and so the long-term consequence is more negative health outcomes. If we can spot that type of psychopathology developing as it’s happening, we can intervene with those individuals and really reduce the risk related to their psychiatric illness but also their physical illness.