In 2009, a startup known as Breakthrough announced it would make it cheap and easy for people to receive confidential counseling on the web.
Three years later, with the upholding of healthcare reform, the startup has finally convinced angel investors to make a $900,000 bet that the shrink’s couch will go online.
With some still attaching a stigma to mental health and therapy, few entrepreneurs have attempted to explore how technology can help deliver care. An estimated 54 million Americans have a diagnosable mental health condition, according to Mental Health America.
And yet, the company’s founders said that more Americans will admit to having a rectal disease than a mental illness.
Breakthrough works by connecting users with counselors via basic keyword search. You select a practitioner based on factors like specialty or location and confidentially set up a video conference. Breakthrough patients with health insurance can chat with any in-network providers on the site for $25 or less. If you don’t have insurance, or you’re not covered by companies such as Blue Shield or Magellan, expect to pay about $100 for an out-of-network appointment. On average, patients book five appointments on the site.
Telepsychiatry, or “therapy 2.0,” has been slow to evolve, but the founders say that it is beginning to take off. They won’t disclose the total number of users for confidentiality reasons, but Mark Goldenson, the site’s CEO and founder, revealed that the site is tripling its user-base each month.
Magellan, California’s largest health insurer, recently agreed to extend its coverage to Breakthrough. This may be enough to tip the scales. Now, 33 million more people across the U.S. may use the service to receive affordable counseling on the HIPAA compliant video platform, meaning that it will protect sensitive patient data.
Prior to starting the company, Goldenson counseled teens on a crisis hotline and worked as a project manager for PayPal. This year, the company graduated from StartX, the Stanford University-affiliated startup accelerator. It counts a handful of licensed practitioners among its advisors, including Dr. Morgan Sammons, dean of psychology at Alliant International University.
Goldenson said that they will use the funding to hire more engineers and invest in marketing to reach thousands of new users.
But is the world ready for telepyschiatry?
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