Digital health company debate: How much can we scale the human component in mental health?

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MedCity News

Patients, employers and investors have turned to mental health apps in droves since the Covid-19 pandemic began. But what’s the best approach? Four executives from well-funded digital health startups debated the role of self-directed mental health programs, coaches and therapists in a virtual panel discussion at the What’s Next in Health Care conference.

On the one hand, Dr. Connie Chen, COO of Lyra Health, said a spectrum of care options are needed to meet people’s mental health needs. The company’s approach relies on appointments with therapists and coaches, with messaging and digital exercises in between.

“This is a model that allows us to take advantage of the goodness of the vendors, the human connection that is being made, but make that treatment more efficient,” she said. “Lyra is extremely old-fashioned. We see there are many people who don’t care unless it’s personal and face to face. “

Lyra’s approach has won over a number of large customers, including Starbucks and Morgan Stanley. It also earned Lyra a valuation of $ 4.6 billion.

On the other side of the ring, Big Health CEO Peter Hames emphasized the use of self-directed therapy apps. His startup has two such apps, one for insomnia and one for anxiety, although none are FDA approved.

As more companies use technology to make it easier for patients to find therapists, he is concerned that some people may still not be able to reach these services.

“The reality is that the level of need will never come close,” he said. “I think everyone is looking the wrong way when it comes to mental health. The majority of people with mental illness do not get near a therapist and, frankly, never will. “

Ginger, who is merging with the meditation app Headspace, sees value in both approaches. While Ginger had a platform that allowed people to chat with trainers or watch a therapist over video, it merged with Headspace to help people stay “upstream,” said CEO Russell Glass.

“We realized that we were going to solve part of the problem,” he said. “But if you really want to solve this on a global scale, a lot more people need to think about prevention much earlier on the journey to mental health.”

Despite their different perspectives, they all agreed: the need for evidence for any approach. Kristian Ranta, CEO of Meru Health, even went so far as to advocate for results-based payment models.

“We need to move more to results-based models and actually pay for real results,” he said. “That is something that I am challenging – it is not just about us here, it is about the payers, it is about the entire industry. How do we make such payment models possible?”

Meru, which bundles therapy with several other services, including peer support, meditation, sleep and nutrition coaching, has found some completely results-based payment models, he added.

Photo credit: Venimo, Getty Images

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