Dr. William Kassler: April 23, 2020

IBM public health expert on the role of technology in combatting loneliness and supporting good mental health

Technology can help individuals, businesses and communities protect mental health and alleviate loneliness during COVID-19 pandemic

Dr. William Kassler

Deputy Health Officer and Lead Population Health Officer, IBM Watson Health


COVID-19 continues to upend normal life and put stress on individuals, families, communities and businesses, alike. While much of the world’s population exercises social distancing or experiences total lockdown to protect one’s physical health, the resulting feelings of isolation may exacerbate two other growing health problems – loneliness in the elderly, and the ongoing, global mental health crisis.


While the elderly stand to gain the most from social distancing for their physical health, they are also among the communities most negatively impacted by isolation. In fact, the loneliness epidemic was already a growing concern for the elderly, and is known to cause real suffering, like depression and anxiety, but also aggravate other health problems such as cognitive decline and heart disease. Medical research cites loneliness contributes to a 26% increase in overall mortality rates.


A recent report from IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) includes research on how loneliness directly impacts personal, economic and social well-being in older adults, while outlining the major role technology plays in driving positive change – especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Technology platforms can be used to match volunteers to help older adults experiencing loneliness; data can combine with the professional and lived experience of retired individuals in customized and personalized solutions that help combat loneliness and isolation with interaction and inclusion; and technology can help deliver these solutions at scale.


Similarly, technology has the potential to help those battling mental health problems brought on during the COVID-19 outbreak. Mental health was already a global crisis and afflicts one out of every 10 people in the world. Many are currently experiencing a decline in emotional well-being, but for those with anxiety, depression or other mental health challenges, coping with this stress can aggravate underlying conditions. That is why addressing mental distress in these uncertain times is key to lessening the impact.


Another IBM report, “How Technology and Data Can Improve Access to Mental Health Resources,” describes the role technology can play in providing 24/7 real time care. This includes increasing access to medical resources and remote care, while also reducing the stigma or shame often associated with mental health. In the workplace, which is one of the most significant factors that can affect an employee’s emotional well-being, businesses can adopt technology to prioritize mental health and enable employees’ access to mental health resources.


Dr. William Kassler, Deputy Health Officer and Lead Population Health Officer, IBM Watson Health is available for interviews to discuss two recent reports from IBM’s Institute for Business Value that detail how technology can both improve access to mental health resources as well as help the loneliness epidemic among the elderly. 


A public health expert, Dr. Kassler has spent his career working at the intersection of clinical care and population health and can also share what IBM is doing today to help address mental health and loneliness during the uncertain times of the coronavirus.




More About Dr. William Kassler:

Dr. Willaim Kassler has spent his career working at the intersection of clinical care and population health; as a practicing primary care internist, epidemiologist, health services researcher, public sector administrator and health policy expert. Dr. Kassler currently works at IBM Watson Health as Deputy Chief Health Officer and Lead Health Officer for Population Health, using big data, advanced analytics and AI to tackle the world’s most pressing health challenges. 


Prior to joining Watson Health, he served as Chief Medical Office for the New England Region of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), and was a founding member in the CMS Innovation Center creating value-based purchasing initiatives to improve population health. Before that, he served as the State Health Officer for New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, with leadership and administrative roles in public health, social services and Medicaid. 


Dr. Kassler started his career at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as an EIS officer, later serving as a medical epidemiologist, Branch Chief for Health Services Research and Evaluation, and as Senior Advisor for health policy in the CDC/Washington Office. He received his MD from the University of Massachusetts Medical School, an MS in nutrition from Case Western Reserve University, an MPH from Berkeley. He completed a primary care internal medicine residency at Brown and was a Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar at the University of California, San Francisco.     


Dr Kassler has been recognized with numerous awards from the United States Public Health Service, including the Surgeon General’s Meritorious Service Award.  He is recipient of the NH March of Dimes Physician Leadership Award, and the Bi-State Primary Care Association President’s Award. He is a practicing internist at a Federally Qualified Health Center, and past president of the New Hampshire Medical Society. 


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