US startup gambles on treating mental health online


  • Mobile apps
  • Friday, 10 Jan 2020

Cerebral offers an online alternative for people who have been left without good treatment options for mental-health issues. — Dreamstime/TNS

A new San Francisco startup wants to make accessing mental-health care almost as simple as ordering a ride to the airport on your phone.

Cerebral, which launched Jan 8, offers an online alternative for people who have been left without good treatment options for mental-health issues. The company is following the example of Silicon Valley-funded upstarts like Hims Inc, Roman Health Medical LLC and Nurx Inc that have widened access to baldness treatments, contraceptives and erectile-dysfunction drugs through discreet online interaction with doctors.

Even for the insured, mental-health coverage in the US can be hard to get. Wait times to see a provider can be months long, and in some places, care can’t be found at all. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, 60% of US counties in 2018 didn’t have a single practicing psychiatrist, and more than half of adults with a mental illness went untreated.

Cerebral wants to step into that gap and make treatment for anxiety, depression and insomnia accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. For a US$92 (RM376) monthly subscription fee, users get an initial video visit with a doctor, medication sent to them in the mail, and monthly video visits and messaging with a care manager. The check-ins provide the patient with support and help the doctor and care manager track the patient’s progress and adjust their dosage if necessary, which is common for many psychiatric drugs.

"I've had my own battle with anxiety and depression over the years, and every time I went to seek out treatment there were different things that held me back,” said chief executive officer Kyle Robertson, who co-founded the company with a former doctor for Hims, Ho Anh.

Cerebral’s model does away with the nine-to-five hours of most psychiatrists and therapists that don’t fit easily into many people’s schedules, Robertson said. He said Cerebral can also help address the stigma surrounding mental illness.

Robertson said unlike companies such as Hims, which have been criticised for a business model where patients often have brief contact with a physician who then prescribes them medication, Cerebral opted to provide video visits and monthly check-ins to make sure patients get the appropriate treatment for their condition. Other telemedicine platforms including Lemonaid Health and MDLIVE offer access to mental-health care, but by focusing on mental health exclusively, Cerebral hopes it can provide better treatment.

Eventually, the company is considering expanding to include services such as psychotherapy.

"We’re really creating a telemedicine model that is built around the problem of mental health,” he said.

Cerebral launched publicly Wednesday in California, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas. It plans to expand soon to other US states. The company declined to provide details on how much money it has raised. – Bloomberg

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