A new study indicates that the condition might be less of a worry than once believed.
In a clinical trial, participants taking semaglutide lost 15 percent of their body weight, on average.
A new crop of digital health companies is using blood glucose monitors to transform the way we eat.
Men at risk for diabetes had greater blood sugar control and lost more belly fat when they exercised in the afternoon than in the morning.
A diet full of highly processed foods with added sugars and salt promoted gut microbes linked to obesity, heart disease and diabetes.
It’s a struggle between you and the Big Food marketers who sell you junk. You’re set up to lose.
The government’s new nutritional recommendations arrive amid a pandemic that has taken a huge toll on American health.
Artificial intelligence has given my pancreas a mind of its own. Am I the human being of the future?
A new $65 million investment led by the growth capital and public investment arm of Sequoia Capital will give Virta Health, a developer of a behavioral-focused diabetes treatment, a valuation of over $1 billion.
Virta’s approach, which uses a combination of approaches to change diet and exercise to reverse the presence of type 2 diabetes and other chronic metabolic conditions, has shown clinical success and attracted 100 health care payers to endorse the company’s treatments.
“We partnered with Virta for their ability to deliver unmatched health improvement and cost savings—two clear differentiators from other offerings on the market,” said William Ashmore, CEO of the State Employees’ Insurance Board of Alabama, in a statement. “Especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s vital that we provide our members the life-changing results Virta is known for delivering, through expert, virtual care delivered right to their home.”
The company said it would use the funding to expand sales and marketing efforts for its services as well as expand its research and development into other non-pharmaceutical therapies for metabolic conditions.
The financing came from Sequoia Capital Global Equities and Caffeinated Capital and brings the company’s total funding to over $230 million and gives it a $1.1 billion valuation, according to a statement.
Alongside Sequoia Capital Global Equities, Caffeinated Capital participated in the round, which brings total funding to more than $230 million and values Virta Health at over $1.1 billion.
Diabetes has long been an attractive condition for startups and has been the first target that companies focused on behavior changes to influence metabolic conditions aim to address. The reason why there are so many diabetes-focused businesses is because of the prevalence of the disease in the U.S. Almost half of adults in the U.S. suffer from obesity, pre-diabetes, or type 2 diabetes and the disease kills thirty people every hour. Diabetes also doubles the risk of death from COVID-19 infections.
Beyond the risks, the costs of treatment are skyrocketing. According to data from the American Diabetes Association released in March 2018, the total costs of treating diagnosed diabetes have risen to $327 billion in 2017 from $245 billion in 2012, when the cost was last examined.
“Given the scope of the metabolic crisis in the U.S. and globally, it cannot be understated how game-changing Virta’s results and care delivery are,” said Patrick Fu, managing partner at Sequoia Capital Global Equities, in a statement. “Virta’s technology-driven, non-pharmaceutical approach has fundamentally changed how diabetes is cared for, and our collective belief in what is possible for population health improvement. This is the future of chronic disease care.”
A C.D.C. analysis finds that overall death rates have risen, particularly among young adults and people of color.
Even people who aren’t obese may be more likely to become seriously ill when infected with the coronavirus, the C.D.C. said.
Experts say it can result in long-term weight loss and significantly improve physical and emotional health and even longevity.
PFAS, industrial chemicals used to waterproof jackets and grease-proof fast-food containers, may disrupt pregnancy with lasting effects.
Truepill, the white-label healthcare services company that provides telehealth and pharmacy fulfillment services, is adding at-home medical testing as the third branch of its services powering the offerings of companies like Hims and Hers, Ro, and other direct-to-consumer healthcare companies.
Financing this expansion of services is a new $75 million round of financing from investors led by Oak HC/FT, with participation from Optum Ventures, TI Platform Management, Sound Ventures and Y Combinator.
“With the change in reimbursement for telemedicine, it changed the trajectory of the direct to consumer companies,” said Annie Lamot, the co-founder and managing director of new lead investors Oak HC/FT. “When we talked to every one of them they all seemed to be using Truepill .”
With its expansion into lab testing, Truepill can provide a full suite of services that used to be confined to the doctor’s office remotely. As more patients adjust to remote delivery of care, these kinds of options will become more attractive.
The move to telemedicine isn’t just something for new entrants either. Incumbents are also finding that they need to provide the same care as their direct to consumer competition, especially as the priority shifts to value-based care rather than fees for services on the reimbursement side — and consumers start demanding lower cost options on the direct pay side.
“I think it enables health plans to provide better care in targeted programs,” said Lamont, a longtime investor in healthcare.
Truepill’s executives certainly hope so.
The two co-founders, Umar Afridi and Sid Viswanathan met over LinkedIn where Viswanathan cold-emailed Afridi. At the time, Afridi was working as a pharmacist filling prescriptions at a Fred Meyer near Seattle).
Initially, Truepill’s growth came from acting as the pharmacist to companies like Hims, Ro, Nurx, and other direct-to-consumer healthcare companies focused on serving the elective health needs of people who wanted hair loss treatments, erectile dysfunction medication, and birth control.
As the company has grown, so have its ambitions. By the end of the year, Truepill expects to book up to $175 million in revenue, according to Viswanathan, and that revenue will come from a more evenly distributed mix of customers among direct to consumer companies, insurance companies, and healthcare providers.
“Everything we do is white labeled from our pharmacy to the lab testing component. You can go to teladoc and use that service. What we like to think early. 80 percent of healthcare is going to happen on a digital channel.. We’re in a perfect position to build the platform company in that space,” Viswanathan said.
At-home testing is a critical component of that platform. Expected to launch before the end of the year, Truepill is working with lab testing providers to offer hundreds of at-home tests. The company said it will focus on tests to manage chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, chronic kidney disease. Incidentally these are areas which have attracted a lot of interest from investors who are backing companies that provide direct to consumer or digital therapeutic solutions to treat or help address these conditions.
“To create a comprehensive, effective digital healthcare experience, there are three essential pillars: pharmacy with extensive insurance coverage, at-home lab testing and telehealth,” said Viswanathan, in a statement. “By adding diagnostics to our suite of solutions, we’ll be able to deliver direct-to-patient healthcare at scale through one platform – Truepill. We envision a future where 80% of healthcare is digital. With diagnostics, telehealth and pharmacy built on our foundation of API-connected infrastructure, Truepill will power that reality.”
Often misunderstood and misdiagnosed, PCOS can play havoc with your fertility. Here’s how to recognize the symptoms and take action to protect your reproductive health.
Life can be fleeting. She wanted to make sure he knew the risks of connection.
In a sign of the growing importance and value of digital healthcare in the world of medicine, two of the industry’s publicly traded companies have agreed to a whopping $18.5 billion merger.
The union of Teladoc Health, a provider of virtual care services, and Livongo, which has made a name for itself by integrating hardware and software to monitor and manage chronic conditions like diabetes, will create a giant in the emerging field of telemedicine and virtual care.
“By expanding the reach of Livongo’s pioneering Applied Health Signals platform and building on Teladoc Health’s end-to-end virtual care platform, we’ll empower more people to live better and healthier lives,” said Glen Tullman, Livongo Founder and Executive Chairman. “This transaction recognizes Livongo’s significant progress and will enable Livongo shareholders to benefit from long-term upside as the combined company is positioned to serve an even larger addressable market with a truly unmatched offering.”
Under the terms of the agreement, each share of Livongo will be exchanged for 0.5920 shares of Teladoc health plus a cash payment of $11.33 for each share. The deal, based on Teladoc’s closing price on August 4, 2020, is roughly $18.5 billion. It’s an eye-popping figure for a company that was, at one point, trading below $16 per-share.
But the new reality of healthcare delivery in the era of COVID-19 rapidly accelerated the adoption of digital and remote care services like those Livongo was selling to its customers — and investor came calling as a result.
The combined company is expected to have pro forma revenue of $1.3 billion representing 85 percent year on year growth, on a pro forma basis. For 2020, the combined company expects adjusted EBITDA to reach $120 million.
“This merger firmly establishes Teladoc Health at the forefront of the next-generation of healthcare,” said Jason Gorevic, the chief executive officer of Teladoc Health, in a statement. “Livongo is a world-class innovator we deeply admire and has demonstrated success improving the lives of people living with chronic conditions. Together, we will further transform the healthcare experience from preventive care to the most complex cases, bringing ‘whole person’ health to consumers and greater value to our clients and shareholders as a result.”
The companies emphasized their combined ability to engage with patients and monitor and manage their conditions using technology. Teladoc Health’s flywheel approach to continued member engagement combined with Livongo’s proven track record of using data science to build consumer trust will accelerate the combined company’s development of longitudinal consumer and provider relationships, the companies said in a statement.
Teladoc currently counts 70 million customers in the United States with an access to Medicare and Medicaid patients that Livongo’s services could reach. The combined company also pitched the operational efficiencies that could be created through the merger. Teladoc estimated that there would be “revenue synergies” of $100 million two years from the close of the deal, reaching $500 million on a run rate basis by 2025, according to a statement.
Gorevic will run the combined company and David Snow will serve as the chair of the new board — which will be comprised of eight current Teladoc board members and five members of the Livongo board.
The company expects the deal to close by the end of the fourth quarter, subject to regulatory approvals. Lazard advised Teladoc on the transaction while Morgan Stanley served as the financial advisor to Livongo.
CVS Caremark launched its point solutions management program with a sleep service from Big Health nearly a year ago, and now it’s adding another of the digital mental healthcare startup’s products to its suite of managed point solutions.
The Daylight product, which is designed to help people alleviate worry and anxiety, will join an expanding list of digital therapeutics that CVS Caremark offers to manage for employer-directed healthcare plans.
Other services in the CVS Caremark portfolio of offerings include Sleepio, a personalized digital sleep program from Big Health; Hello Heart, which helps members understand and improve their heart health; Hinge Health, which provides an app-based coaching and wearable sensor for chronic back and joint pain management; Livongo which provides coaching, monitoring devices, and digital treatments for conditions including diabetes, hypertension, weight management, and diabetes prevention solutions; Torchlight, a caregiver support solution; and Whil, a digital training platform for mindfulness, stress resilience, mental well-being and performance.
“Plan sponsors increasingly see the value in health care point solutions for improving workforce productivity, satisfaction and overall well-being, however with so many options on the market, it can be challenging to identify trusted solutions that best meet the needs of their members,” said Sree Chaguturu, M.D., Chief Medical Officer, CVS Caremark, the pharmacy benefit management business of CVS Health, in a statement earlier this year. “We have analyzed pharmacy and medical claims to identify where these benefits can make a difference and employ a rigorous and transparent evaluation process to assure that any vendor included in Point Solutions Management meets high standards for safety, quality and user experience at the vendor’s lowest price in the marketplace.”
According to Chaguturu plan providers are interested in point solutions that can digitally compliment the care that patients receive from physicians that can help with self-management of chronic conditions.
These self-directed, digitally enhanced therapies are especially important at a time when more care is being conducted remotely thanks to the social distancing demands imposed by efforts to control the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States.
“The point solutions management platform is a platform designed for B2B2C.. Where plan sponsors are contracting through the platform to help their members,” said Chaguturu, in an interview. “We work with Big Health to support awareness of the application through our other platforms as well.”
Rather than go direct to consumer like any number of other mental health and wellness applications vying for customers, Big Health has chosen to work with employer provided healthcare plans and services like CVS Caremark’s because it can reach more people, said Big Health co-founder Peter Hames.
“CVS has shown real forward thinking in implmenting this platform to provide this conduit to digital care,” Hames said. “CVS Caremark administrates benefits to over 100 million people in America. The scope via the reimbursement space is huge… We could take a direct to consumer model. [But] my experience has shown me that going through this reimbursed pathway provides a much bigger vector.”
The two companies declined to disclose the financial terms of the arrangement between CVS and Big Health, but Chaguturu did say that the company did not invest in solutions offered through its program or have a financial interest in the business.
Big Health has raised over $54 million from investors including Octopus Ventures, Samsung Next, Glide Healthcare, Morningside Group, Kaiser Permanente Ventures, and Index Ventures, according to data from Crunchbase.
Eating a diet high in sugar and processed foods could dent our long-term health in part by changing how well our bodies respond to exercise.
Since being re-acquired from Nokia in 2018 by a group including its original founders and some of its original investors, health tech company Withings has been focused on evolving their offering of consumer health hardware to provide medical-grade data that can be shared with, and leveraged by healthcare professionals to deliver better, more personalized care. The company has now raised another $60 million to continue pursuing that goal, a Series B funding round co-led by Glide Healthcare, along with existing Withings investors IDinvest Partners, Bpfrance and BNP Paribas Développement, ODDO BHF and Adelle Capital.
Withings will use the funds to ramp up its MED PRO division, a part of the business formed last year that focuses on the company’s B2B efforts, placing its medical-grade consumer health devices in programs and deployments managed by medical professionals, health institutions, insurance payers, researchers and more.
In an interview, Withings CEO Mathieu Letombe explained that following the re-acquisition of the company, the team set out to “pivot slightly” in regards: First, the company would only focus on medical grade products and services from here on out, something that Letombe said was done at least in part because of how crowded the general ‘wellness’ tech category has become, and in part because players like Apple had really, in their view, made the most of that category with their Apple Watch and other health features.
The second was to shift on their business side to better address the B2B market – primarily due to inbound requests to do so.
“We were getting a lot of requests from the healthcare industry,” Letombe told me. “And by the healthcare industry I mean major healthcare programs, like the diabetes prevention program, the hypertension program. Also hospitals, insurers and Pharma, so we decided to dig into it and we saw the there was a huge demand for medical connected devices from this world.”
According to Letombe, Withings was well-positioned to address this need, and had an advantage over other traditional medical device suppliers for enterprise and industry. The company’s DNA was in building accurate, user-friendly devices to help them keep an eye on their wellbeing at home, and so they put their focus on evolving those products so that the results they provide pass the standards of governing medical device regulatory bodies around the world.
Withings’ special advantage in this pursuit was that it knew very well how to build products that customers want to use, and have opted to pay out of pocket for in the past. Most medical equipment for at-home monitoring that comes from a payer or a healthcare institution hasn’t had to face the challenges and focusing rigor of the consumer technology market, and it’s foisted upon users, not selected by them from a field of choices. Letombe says that this consumer edge is what has helped Withings with its B2B business, and notes that both sides of the market will continue to be of equal importance to the company going forward.
The company had been turning its attention to building out a suite of products, from smart blood pressure monitors, to scales that measure body fat percentage, to contactless thermometers and much more, long before there was any hint of the current COVID-19 pandemic, obviously. But that demand from the healthcare industry has stepped up considerably in the wake of the coronavirus, which has accelerated plans from insurers, care providers and healthcare pros to develop and deploy remote care capabilities and services.
“We also got a ton of requests from a company that wanted to create back-to-work packages, were there was a thermometer or a scale or blood pressure monitor for them to help the employee understand if they are at risk for COVID,” Letombe said, noting that the B2B opportunities the company has seen extend beyond the healthcare industry itself.
To assist with its new medical B2B focus, Withings has also formed a Medical Advisory Board, which Letombe says they’ve actually been working with for a year but that they’re only announcing publicly alongside this funding. The board includes Mayo Clinic Platform President Dr. John Halamka, former head of Clinical Pharmacology in Hôpital Européen Georges Pompidou Dr. Stéphane Laurent, and former head of Clinical Innovation at Pfizer Craig Lipset – top medical professionals across respected institutions and one of the largest therapeutics companies in the world.
Letombe notes that Withings also has a number of medical physicians and professionals on staff, as well as a psychologist and a physicist, and so they’re involved in building the products themselves throughout their design and creation, rather than just validating their results after the fact.
Withings would seem to be in a great position to address not only the growing need for connected medical monitoring tools, but also to understand exactly what makes those products work for consumers, and become something they actively want to use as part of their lifestyle. This new $60 million round is a vote of confidence in that strategy, and in its ability to become something bigger and still more ambitious.
The diabetes camp that gave us hope had an unlikely connection to my father, a former priest who would have delighted in being our guardian angel.
Reta Mays, who worked at a hospital in West Virginia, is accused of administering fatal doses of insulin to veterans.
The pharmaceutical company spent more than $100 million on lavish meals, fishing junkets, golf outings, sporting events and speaker fees to influence doctors to prescribe its drugs, federal prosecutors said.
Her bouts of sweating and confusion were traced to dangerously low blood sugar. But what was causing it?
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday updated and expanded its list of who is at risk of developing severe illness from COVID-19—emphasizing that it’s not just the elderly who suffer from the disease.
Most noticeably, the CDC removed the specific age threshold of 65 and over for those considered at risk of severe COVID-19—that is, those requiring hospitalization, intensive care, ventilation, or those who die from the disease.
Now, the agency emphasizes that there is a gradient of risk based on age. In other words, there is some risk at any age, but that risk increases with age. A 50-year-old will have more risk than a 40-year-old, and a 60-year-old is at higher risk than someone in their 50s. The greatest risk is seen in those aged 85 and over.
In the South Bronx, the coronavirus had a devastating impact on an already vulnerable population. Residents of public housing didn’t wait for the city to help.
Many infections come from within. Doctors explain what they are and what to do about them.
Need another reason to move? Sedentary behavior was linked to an increased risk of fatal cancer.
The extensive molecular changes that occur during and after working out underscore how consequential activity is for our bodies and health.
Higi, which was founded back in 2012 per Crunchbase, has built out a nationwide network of “health stations” located at retail locations such as groceries and pharmacies within 5 miles of 73% of the US population, where users can check their blood pressure, pulse, weight and BMI for free.
It also offers apps for users to track health measurements and input fitness data — giving it access to rich data streams that can inform healthcare workflows for its partners.
Higi says its kiosks have been used by 62M people in North America to date, conducting more than 372M biometric tests. Babylon’s investment in the company will go on supporting the expansion and “enhancement” of this network, including further development of digital capabilities, assessments and programs, the pair said today.
Babylon is not disclosing the size of its strategic investment in Higi’s Series B. Existing investors from the latter’s Series A also participated, including 7Wire Ventures, Flare Capital Partners, Jumpstart Capital, Rush University Medical Center for Health and William Wrigley Jr.
A spokeswoman for Babylon said it’s the first official US investment it has made but said it’s hopeful that “more strategic investments and partnerships” will follow to help extend its reach in the US.
“By offering a bundled care solution that combines Babylon’s symptom checking and remote digital health tools with Higi’s consumer reach and assessment capabilities, the companies will together be able to offer a more end-to-end solution to meet the needs of payers, providers and retailers on the front lines of care delivery,” the pair said in a press release.
“Higi’s Smart Health Stations are already located in thousands of towns across North America, and by integrating Babylon’s digital first healthcare services into Higi’s station experience, we can make the healthcare services that people need that much more accessible and affordable across North America,” said Babylon CEO and founder Dr Ali Parsa in a statement.
He goes on to talk up the tie-up as supporting “the everyday support of a person’s health and wellbeing” — claiming it places “greater emphasis on prevention and tackling issues earlier [by] helping millions of people proactively tend to their health and connect them to the information and medical support they need”.
“With Babylon as one of our investors and strategic partners, we are beautifully positioned to drive real change in the delivery of primary care across the U.S.,” added Higi CEO Jeff Bennett in another supporting statement. “Our commitment is to provide consumers, anywhere they might be in, with smart medical tools like unique diagnostics to support their health and wellbeing.
“Our partnership with Babylon broadens our clinical capabilities and ability to support consumers with acute medical problems or those with chronic conditions like hypertension, diabetes, and obesity, thereby allowing us to better meet the needs of payors, retailers and health systems. The U.S. healthcare system has many virtues, but it is simply too expensive and hard for consumers to access care. Together, we will get patients to the right care, faster and far less expensively.”
Babylon begun a push into the US market this year, launching officially on January 1. Currently it provides access to “healthcare services” via its app to members of certain health plans in Missouri, New York and California. Earlier this month, for example, it partnered with Mount Sinai Health Partners to offer an insurance-covered telehealth option for New Yorkers which includes video consultations with physicians.
Last month, Business Insider reported that Babylon had furloughed 5% of its staff in response to the coronavirus pandemic, tapping into a scheme which sees the UK government covering up to 80% of the pay of furloughed workers.
Compared to white or Hispanic patients, black patients seeking care have more advanced cases of Covid-19, researchers reported.
Is it OK to be “body positive” while striving to be thinner?
Only 6 percent of patients at one New York area health system had no chronic conditions. Hypertension, obesity and diabetes were common.
LabCorp’s at-home COVID-19 test, which is called ‘Pixel,’ has received the first Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for such a test missed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The test is an at-home collection kit, which provides sample collection materials including a nasal swab to the user, who then uses the included shipping package to return the sample to a lab for testing.
Until now, the FDA has not authorized any at-home testing or sample collection kits for use, and in fact clarified its guidelines to specifically note that their use was not authorized under its guidelines when a number of startup companies debuted similar products for at-home collection and round-trip testing with labs already certified to run molecular RT-PCR tests to detect the presence of COVID-19.
The FDA notes that only LabCorp’s COVID-19 RT-PCR test has received this authorization, and that it still requires any such test to have an EUA before they can being offering services, whether or not the test is administered at home with the help of guidance from an authorized medical professional via telemedicine. Some labs facilitating at home serology tests using an exception in the FDA guidelines, but these are not viewed by the agency as tests that can confirm a case of COVID-19.
Opening up at-home testing (even via just sample collection, vs. full at-home test administration) is a big step in terms of a change in the way the agency has operated thus far. The FDA has recently updated its guidelines to note that it is working with at-home test providers to determine the best way to make those available to the public, since it “sees the public health value in expanding the availability of COVID-19 testing through safe and accurate tests that may include home collection.”
LabCorp is a U.S. medical diagnostics company with over 40 years of experience, including at-home testing via its Pixel line for colorectal cancer, diabetes, and cardiac lipid conditions. It seems like the FDA is favoring long-standing industry experience in terms of who it’s willing to open up authorizations for with at-home collection, which is likely due to the potential for increased error when you add unsupervised self-collection, packing and logistics into the mix.
Testing for COVID-19 in the U.S. currently relies on drive-through sites, as well as in-clinic and hospital testing. These tests have a high bar for access in terms of risk profile and symptom presentation, and their administration also exposes the healthcare professionals running them to risk of contracting the infection themselves. At-home testing could increase overall testing rates, while decreasing risk to frontline healthcare workers, providing a better picture of the true extent and depth of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Improving our metabolic health could help ward off future medical, economic and social calamities from whatever pathogen next comes down the pike.
People are finally cooking more.
Using a combination of machine learning and computer vision, Yes Health claims it can cut costs and improve adherence for behavioral-based treatments targeting diabetes, obesity and other chronic conditions.
Those claims, and the company’s technology based approach has netted the company a new $6 million in funding led by Khosla Ventures .
The company’s technology automates patient’s reporting requirements by allowing them to take a picture of their meals rather than entering their daily food intake into a system. The company’s software recognizes meals from the images and converts that information into data that physicians and patients can use to monitor their progress.
If the ease of use for patients is one selling point, then the company’s automated messaging service is another. Using computer generated prompts instead of human consultations reduces the cost of the service and ultimately the price that folks have to pay.
Founded by Alexander Petrov, a former PayPal executive who is, himself, pre-diabetic, Yes Health takes the therapies that have been pioneered by companies like Virta Health and Omada and makes them easier for patients to manage.
“The biggest difference is that we have a level of personalization that then translates into engagement that is very unique,” says Petrov. “We are doing it through what we call an image-based in-the-moment approach… We capture analyze and share data not just through text but through images.”
The company, which launched six years ago, is working with Blue Shield of California and other healthcare partners. Yes Health has tens of thousands of paying members, according to Petrov, and the vision is to reach millions of people.
Yes Health sells through both healthcare plans and direct to consumers — and the market the company hopes to address is huge. Roughly 34 million Americans had diabetes in 2018, according to data from the CDC and another 88 million are considered pre-diabetic. The cost of caring for these conditions in the US is an astonishing $327 billion each year. Healthcare costs for these patients can also reach more than 230% of the average American’s healthcare expenditures.
These issues take on new significance given the COVID-19 epidemic. Conditions like diabetes or obesity are linked to increasing chances of fatality from COVID-19 infection, according to reports.
“Americans are more conscious than ever about their health, and digital health has become one of the most important markets for innovation,” said Samir Kaul, founding partner and managing director of Khosla Ventures, in a statement. “Yes Health is proven to tackle difficult and costly chronic conditions through an AI-augmented and all-mobile solution, aligning it with our firm’s thesis in healthcare.”
Comfort foods like chips and cookies can short-circuit our biology and accelerate the onset of diabetes and heart disease.
Hims, the startup consumer health brand providing out-of-pocket physician services online, has launched group therapy services through its Hims and Hers brands as part of an initial push into mental health services.
The company first began exploring opportunities to expand into the mental health category around eight months ago, and accelerated its pace to respond to increased consumer demand cery aused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mental health and wellness has become a huge business opportunity for consumer startups as the stigma around seeking treatment for mental health issues has abated.
For Hims, which built its brand around the destigmatization of disorders like erectile dysfunction, and sexual health and wellness, the extension into mental health made sense, according to founder and chief executive, Andrew Dudum . “It’s probably the simplest leap the company has made,” he said.
“Hair loss, STDs, acne, performance anxiety… These are really medical conditions that get to your core around confidence, self-worth and stigma… these are not topics of conversation,” Dudum said. “There is a big need in our customer base to help them with areas of anxiety, stress and depression… There is nothing more stigmatized than mental health.”
Hims and Hers are beginning their foray into mental wellness with anonymized group therapy and guided meditation sessions that won’t have the same hurdles to providing treatment that the company would have for individual therapy or text-based sessions.
Government regulations at the federal and state level require mental health clinicians to be licensed in-state, which means that the company is limited in the kinds of services it can offer before it rolls out its network.
Currently, the company has about a dozen mental health practitioners that it’s working with through Regroup Telehealth, one of the largest providers of tele-psychiatry services in the country.
Ultimately, Hims envisions providing a continuum of care ranging from anonymous group therapy sessions to telemedical consultations, to in-person, video consultations and an ability to issue prescriptions to folks that need it.
Like its other services, the mental health offerings are going to be capped at the provision of some very basic services and the company won’t be prescribing any medication for what could be considered controlled substances, according to the company’s chief medical officer, Dr. Patrick Carroll.
“We only treat low risk patients,” Dr. Carroll said. “It will be the same thing for behavioral health… the conventional screen is a PHQ9… We will have a depression and anxiety screen. For those folks that get scripts we can make sure that their prescriptions line up with the tests and screens.”
That means the company won’t be prescribing medications like Xanax, Ritalin, Adderall, or anti-psychotics for people with more serious conditions. “The majority of things that we will prescribe will be [serotonin re-uptake inhibitors],” said Caroll. Those are medications like Prozac, Zoloft, and Lexipro.
To ensure that the company’s practitioners are meeting the requisite standard of care, each interaction with a therapist will be recorded and roughly 10% to 20% of those interactions will be audited, per company policy. “We’re going to have the same quality structure in place,” said Dr. Carroll. “We will have therapists as well as advisers who are going to be part of the quality review process and review encounters to make sure that the guidelines.”
The group therapy sessions, which will typically cost $15, are free for the next few months as the nation struggles to cope with the dramatic social changes caused by the government’s response to the COVID-19 epidemic.
Eventually the company expects to adopt a monthly subscription fee for its mental health offerings, including $50 per month for text based therapy and more customized options. Prices will cap at a few hundred dollars per month.
Unlike companies like SonderMind, which announced the close of a new round of financing yesterday, Hims and Hers mental wellness offerings won’t be covered by any healthcare plan. Instead it’s an out-of-pocket expense similar to the other services that the company offers.
That model appears to be working. “We have seen over 1 million patients over the platform over the past year and a half,” said Dudum. “From high risk cardiovascular disease and diabetes… The medical system that has been put in place by Pat and the 300 plus physician organizations… is one that is already treating very serious conditions.”
In some way, mental health is the most appropriate candidate for a telemedical offering, according to Steve Monte, a field lecturer with the Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work at the University of Southern California.
“I like to think about it as an idea whose time has come,” said Monte. “Coronavirus has shed a light on how useful these services are.”
Indeed, many companies already are providing virtual mental health services. Teladoc, the publicly traded telemedicine provider has a subsidiary called BetterHelp, which offers mental healthcare via the phone.
“The thing that drew me to the company was reimagining certain elements of healthcare and providing access to people,” said Green. “We’re not going to be able to service every medical need in this way. To the extent that there are things that can be handled in the appropriate high integrity way that can be supplied digitally we want to be able to provide that to the customer.”