Dothan psychiatrist Nelson Handal advancing treatments with first-of-its-kind mental health assessment

A local psychiatrist and his team are leading the world in using high-tech data to improve mental health treatment. Their innovative assessment tool, CliniCom, was recently featured in Forbes magazine.

Dr. Nelson Handal masterminded the technology and conducted research at a local institution he helped found: Dothan Behavioral Medicine Clinic.

The online tool is much more than a simple “yes or no” questionnaire patients receive at most doctors’ offices. It is dynamic software using around 35 algorithms developed to evaluate patients. It’s “very agile, very fast,” Handal said.

Patients are asked about personal demographic and health, which help CliniCom generate specific questions for each user using logic programmed by software developers and mental health care professionals on Handal’s team. Each answer can prompt more questions. Answers are displayed in multiple choice, yes-or-no’s, scaled, or short answer formats.

CliniCom can assess patients for up to 52 psychiatric conditions in adults, adolescents, and children, simultaneously, the first in the world to do so in a single environment according to Handal (without being sent to different web pages).

“You may be missing comorbid conditions that the patients may have because they come for the main problem – let’s say depression,” he said. “You go through the symptoms and you decide they have depression and give them the medicine. But, what if they have bipolar disorder? Most bipolar patients come depressed. They don’t come when they’re manic.”

CliniCom can probe for bipolar disorder using the software and intricate set of criteria.

Adult services at Dothan Behavioral see 48 new patients every week. With an influx of patients making appointments to see mental health care professionals, Handal said it was important for him to find a way to better serve patients without wasting valuable time.

“I have always been interested in technology,” he said. “I figured out we didn’t have a way to collect as much information as we really need to be able to serve the patients in a mental health setting in a better way.”

Often it takes several visits by patients to review surgical history, past and current medical conditions, allergies, social history, and traumas to come up with a preliminary diagnosis and begin a treatment regimen.