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50 Innovative Companies to Watch 2019

An Interview with Hazel Wheldon, Multi-Health Systems, Inc. “Technological innovations that are revolutionizing the psychological assessment industry.”

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“Our core innovation is the development of the highest-quality, user-friendly products while maintaining scientific rigor.”

Through this decade, attention to the importance of mental health and the role that nurturing psychological and neurological strengths and fostering adaptive behaviour has on individual and organization performance has moved from a conversation held in hushed tones to the forefront of society. Inclusiveness and diversity, with mental health at the core, is as much a top priority for business leaders as it is for the general population. Identifying strengths and diagnosing needs is moving from the sole domain of the psychologist to a broader adoption of psychology in society, driven in large part by advances in technology and the immersion of technology into our lives.

For 35 years Multi-Health Systems, Inc. (MHS), a global mid-size enterprise, has focused these societal, psychological, scientific and organizational challenges with the aim of improving individual and organizational effectiveness.

MHS aligns extensive scientific research, big data, and innovative technologies to create, market, and sell market leading assessment-based systems and solutions that help inform critical decisions in the areas of mental health, education, talent development, and public safety. Trusted to help users accurately assess, evaluate, and improve performance in over 75 countries, MHS solutions help people and enterprises around the world reach their full potential.

The company was incorporated in 1983 and is headquartered in Toronto, Canada.

Hazel Wheldon, CEO of Multi-Health Systems, Inc. spoke exclusively to The Silicon Review. Below is an excerpt.

Why was the company set up?

The company was founded with a vision of automating psychological testing, creating business value by democratizing knowledge and assessment systems for the practicing psychologist capitalizing on the newly accessible microcomputers, which at the time were predominantly the Apple II and the Apple III.

Dr. Stein was an early adopter of technology. He noticed in his clinical work with children that they responded positively to the computer and were more open and honest with it than when they were interacting with him. He asked himself, “Would the children’s responses be more accurate if a computer-based assessment was used rather than a human led assessment?” He founded MHS with the goal of automating sensitive psychological assessments through technology. These assessments were designed to help provide insights into the complex mental health issues that children were facing, including those that were difficult to talk about such as drug and alcohol dependence. The biggest challenge he faced was not with the innovative use of technology in mental health assessments from the client end, but with other psychologists and their resistance to technology-based change. They were more apprehensive of the technology than the children were. This meant that business viability was a bit of a struggle in the early years, but the company stuck to the vision that technology would make psychological assessments meaningful and accessible to a larger community.

How did you expand your offerings over the years?

Because the adoption of software in our original market was slow in the ’80s, and the predominant method of assessing children for psychological tests was through paper and pencil, we began to develop, license and out right acquire intellectual property in the psychological assessment field. This created a point of entry with practitioners through familiar pencil and paper techniques and with those relationships in place we could better position growth into digital. We expanded our product portfolio, from clinical diagnostic software along, into paper and pencil diagnostic tests developing a market leading position in tests for conditions such as Attention Deficit Disorder, Depression and Anxiety in children. With success in the clinical market we undertook strategic growth into the Public Safety market with assessments for risk and recidivism with offenders. We then expanded into the talent and human resources markets, pioneering the value of emotional intelligence in hiring an organizational dynamic through the late ’90s.

How often do you innovate? Is it only when there is a need in the market?

I like to think we innovate daily, that innovation is a core competency of MHS. We consistently focus on solving our clients’ problems, which requires constant innovation because our markets are evolving at a rapid pace. The questions we always ask ourselves include: “what problem are we trying to solve and for whom” and “how can we best solve these problems in a competitive and cost-effective fashion?” We’re immediately responsive to meeting any challenges our clients might experience in adapting their practice with our instruments. Their work includes using apps for electronic health record systems such as EPIC to deliver our products right into the EHR. Another innovation is our proprietary photo capture software. A psychologist or clinician can use it to take a photo of a paper and pencil response sheet, have that automatically scored by a computer, and delivered back into the client’s inbox. This solution allows the psychologist to use the traditional paper and pencil method to deliver the assessment (important in areas where access to technology is still limited) but take advantage of the automated scoring and reporting features that we offer, saving them both valuable time and resources. These are technologies, solutions, and innovations that happen in the course of our everyday work as a result of asking, “How can we best solve this problem?”

What are the factors that make MHS stand out from the competition?

Invention, innovation, and history are the three factors that stand out to me. MHS has a long history of invention, from our leading-edge ADHD assessment system in the ‘80s, Emotional Intelligence tools in the ‘90s, to our current unique delivery methods through this century. We have consistently strived to advance industries through our research-based understanding of how mental capacity and capability are measured and applied to outcomes and performance. Let me unpack that with some examples.

In the 1980s, we developed paper and pencil assessment systems that used a data management technique that allowed for both the response and the scoring within a single forms package. This saved psychologists’ hours of scoring time, and simplified their workflows as a result, and this method we pioneered has become the de facto for all the industry publishers.

In the ‘90s, we were the first to digitize the paper experience. We took our paper and pencil assessment forms and we translated them into digital forms, automating the scoring and analysis. This again resulted in a cost saving for our clients, as well as saving time by automating previously manual steps. In my opinion the bigger improvements that came from automating the workflow are found in the increased accuracy that digital brings. Repetition fatigue isn’t an issue to a digital system and the ability to create new analysis and data science (at the time called analytics or business intelligence) offerings that operated upon this newly digital data and created new sources of value for MHS and our customers.

In the 2000s, only delivering our existing products in a digital format wasn’t enough to meet market demand. We realized that we needed to focus on using digital technology to do more than digitize what had always been done, we needed to provide enhancements to our products and services that reflected what native digital workflows required (versus a digital interpretation of formerly analogue workflows). We began to leverage technology to make our customer’s jobs, workflows, and client experience easier daily.

In a digital economy, you can’t allow your competitors to advance in their digital capabilities beyond your own or you forever struggle to close the widening gap between you both. Simply put, your e-commerce offerings need to be as easy to use as Amazon is, your information sharing as readily digestible as Facebook, and your ability to support your client’s workflow as easy as Microsoft is. To me this is the biggest change in modern business; consumers expect consumer like experiences from the businesses that serve them regardless of the model being B2C or B2B.

How does your company contribute to the competitive global IT platform at large?

We were the first in our industry to first both digitize the paper experience and then to leverage digital technology to make assessments, and collecting behavioural data through assessment, the most compelling user experience possible while also being the most efficient business platform as possible in our industry. These techniques have been copied and adapted in various forms by our competitors. We like to think we have driven technological adoption in the psychological assessment industry while continuing to stay ahead of the competition by nurturing a culture of continuous innovation and an obsession with customer success.

We continue to develop unique intellectual property that has the potential to be licensed and made available to people to use outside of our industry. Our exclusive test data image capture software, using AI techniques including image recognition, language processing and soon translation, is one example of our contribution to global IT. The integrations and apps that we’re currently building for enterprise business operating platforms including the EPIC Electronic Health Record (EHR), Microsoft Dynamics365, the Cerner EHR, and the Salesforce platform are examples of the contributions we are making to the IT community within our industry. We believe that we are not only contributing to the technological advancement of our base industry, psychological and neuroscience-based assessments, but we are also using data science, AI, advanced encryption and automated compliance monitoring to build foundational technology that others can use and apply in their industries.

Do you have any new products ready to be launched?

Absolutely! We are close to launching our Salesforce Integration App that will allow our products to be delivered natively through the Salesforce CRM platform. Some of our clients use this App as their practice management or business operations software. We recently launched a Hardiness assessment in our Talent area, which measures resilience, hardiness, and the ability to bounce back from adversity. These are essential leadership skills in a corporate setting. We have a sales profession assessment tool that is about to be released. It will enable sales people to see their behaviour patterns as they close sales and manage accounts and the tool helps sales people and their managers develop strategies and plans to improve their effectiveness. We are about to launch a fascinating performance validity test for children. This test will be applicable in many areas, for example, assessments for insurance claims related to reported trauma and injury to children as a result of accidents. This test ensures claimants are not trying to make the results of their injury out to be worse than they are, detecting what is known as “faking bad”. Faking bad is a complicated construct to assess, so we worked with world-class neuropsychologists and program authors to invent a unique way of measuring whether or not someone is trying to manipulate their performance on an assessment.

I can see this innovative technique applying to any use where fraud or misrepresentation by an individual needs to be determined or detected.

Where do you see your company a couple of years from now?

Within the next five years, we see our company doubling in revenue while holding headcount growth to 50 percent or less. We are about to move to a new high-tech campus that is custom designed and built specifically for our organization, allowing us to have a workspace where the flow of ideas and people create an environment that supports our innovation and our growth. I see a very strong and vibrant future for MHS and I am excited to lead this organization into the next five years of growth.

“We consistently focus on solving our clients’ problems which requires constant innovation because our markets are evolving at a rapid pace.”