Dr Phil's startup launches video visits with US therapists

  • TECH
  • Monday, 15 Dec 2014

SAVING TIME AND MONEY: Online therapy solutions are often more affordable and convenient than in-person alternatives, the company said.

SAN FRANCISCO: Doctor On Demand is the latest Silicon Valley startup to bet that people will turn to mobile devices for confidential counselling. 

The company has launched a web and mobile service to connect people with its network of US psychologists. The Doctor On Demand app is available on mobile devices with both Google Inc's Android and Apple Inc's iOS platforms. 

Doctor On Demand was founded by daytime talk show personality Dr Phillip McGraw, popularly known as Dr Phil, as well as his son Jay McGraw and entrepreneur Adam Jackson. 

It has raised US$24mil (RM83.91mil) from such venture firms as Andreessen Horowitz and Google Ventures, as well as angel investors including Virgin Group founder Richard Branson. 

The benefits of these virtual services outweigh any potential drawbacks, such as therapists missing important nonverbal cues, Phillip McGraw said. 

"Facial expression, body language and reactions to different questions or subject matters are all available for an attentive virtual therapist," he said. 

The company claims over 300 mental health professionals are ready to accept new patients on its service. 

Patients answer a few background questions and then schedule an appointment for a live video chat with a therapist. 

Doctor On Demand charges US$50 (RM175) for a 25-minute session and US$95 (RM332) for 50 minutes. The mental health professionals receive the bulk of this fee, but Doctor On Demand makes money by retaining a cut. 

Internet-based programmes to support mental health have increasingly gained support from Silicon Valley's entrepreneurs and investors. Doctor on Demand rival MDLive recently acquired a startup called Breakthrough to move into the space. 

Online therapy solutions are often more affordable and convenient than in-person alternatives, the company said. 

The majority of Doctor On Demand's therapists specialise in a brand of coaching called cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT, which helps people identify specific problems and gives them tools to overcome them. This type of therapy can be seamlessly adapted for video consultations, said Jackson, the company's CEO. 

The company has also secured a partnership with UpSpring, a startup that specialises in providing tools for moms. Doctor On Demand's users can now request a private video conference with lactation consultants to address any concerns about breastfeeding. 

In the coming months, the company is aiming to provide more reimbursement options for its patients. Jackson said it is in talks with insurance providers and large employers, but declined to provide specifics. — Reuters 

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