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Providing Mental Wellbeing From a Distance

This piece is cross posted from Columbia Business School's publication, here is a link to the original post.

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As people around the globe adjust to the new world of connecting with colleagues, friends, and loved ones via video, they are also embracing the notion of receiving their healthcare online. Mental healthcare is well suited to telehealth, and an increasing number of people are availing themselves of remote mental healthcare to alleviate anxiety, depression, and other issues stemming from the coronavirus pandemic. Among the services offering remote mental healthcare is Mantra Health, co-founded by Matt Kennedy ’17. The subscription service allows people to connect via video chat with a nurse practitioner who can prescribe medication and recommend relevant lifestyle changes to help alleviate issues such as depression and anxiety. The company is also expanding its services by partnering with universities who are having trouble keeping up with the demand for mental health services, especially during the coronavirus crisis. Kennedy discusses why he believes telehealth is the wave of the future, the advantages of remote healthcare, and how to maximize your mental healthcare check-in, even if you have to do it from afar.

What pain points does telehealth alleviate in healthcare, aside from allowing patients to stay home?

Telehealth reduces wait times. It increases access. It obliterates the geographic boundaries that a provider historically had to function within (though they still must be licensed in the state in which the patient is located), which was how far a patient was willing to travel. The new geographic boundaries are state licensure laws. There’s also a major labor shortage across our country for healthcare providers, particularly behavioral health providers. Telehealth allows us to expand supply to healthcare deserts. This national crisis might put enough pressure on regulators or state licensing boards to accelerate working together so that providers don’t need to be individually licensed in every state for telehealth patients, which creates unnecessary costs in our healthcare system and limits access.

If you’re new to accessing mental healthcare remotely, what should you do to make it as good an experience as possible?

You should treat the clinical aspect of it like any other in-person appointment. Think about what you want to cover ahead of time. Have your questions prepared. To improve the experience, you also want to make sure you have a good internet connection and a private, quiet space to talk. One thing we found in our data is that most people prefer to use their laptop instead of a mobile phone for video visits because of the screen size. If you’re taking the call on your laptop or desktop, close all the other tabs on your browser and other application that may be running on your computer to improve your video quality. Chrome tends to perform best for our platform. Take advantage of being in the comfort of your own home. Make sure you choose a comfortable space with good lighting. Remember, the provider is going to make a clinical decision based on the interaction. The more authentic you are, the better care you’ll receive. The less disrupted the call is by your dog barking or by a lagging internet connection because your browser has 20 tabs running in the background, the better care you’ll receive.

Are you seeing an increase in demand since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic? 

Yes. I can’t give specific numbers, but our patient count has doubled in the last two months. In addition, one of the universities we partner with wants to increase the clinical hours we provide for them by almost ten-fold for the next year. We are also getting increased requests from universities that are trying to plan for next year and thinking about how to build a resilient campus.

What inspired you to enter the telehealth space?

I was noticing that in the US healthcare market, a shift to digital was going to be at the forefront. People were getting more informed about where their healthcare spend was going and what they were actually buying. There was a move toward subscription healthcare products, so our initial hypothesis was a subscription digital psychiatry model. Psychiatric care is a specialty discipline where there is tremendous need for more access and improved quality. Currently, 80 percent of behavioral health prescriptions get written by primary care doctors, who don’t necessarily have specialty knowledge or interest to manage these patients well. Our idea was to connect someone with a psychiatric nurse practitioner who specialize in treating mental health conditions to deliver better care than what people would get from their primary care provider and at a lower cost than a psychiatrist.

Why expand from an individual subscription model to a higher education platform, and how does it work?

We found that young adults loved our platform and were interested in our services but were not willing to spend the monthly subscription fee. At many universities, the demand for services is so high that the waiting list could be all semester. Mental health is universally a top concern of school administrators, too. Because of this, we reoriented the business and now partner with higher education institutions. We also built a cloud-based care collaboration portal we license to universities. When universities contract with us, we are able to cut the wait time down to about a week.

Do you think the current health crisis will push the healthcare industry to permanently adopt telehealth as a main method of care?

Telehealth has a lot of excellent uses, including reducing expensive hospital visits for minor issues. I think we’re going to see tremendous adoption of telehealth over the next three to four months. We would have reached that conclusion regardless, but this is forcing the industry and new populations to rapidly adopt telehealth. This is also true of providers, who are turning to telehealth to not only continue delivering care but also maintain their revenue during the national emergency. We’re seeing several years’ worth of adoption happen in a matter of months.

Any tips for getting through this challenging time?

My co-founder, Dr. Ravi Shah, also an assistant professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center, shares some excellent advice here.