US tele-health startup Doctor On Demand has just added a new service to its app: patients will henceforth be able to get in touch remotely with a psychologist in order to obtain counselling for mental health problems.
Telemedicine, which literally means medical assistance delivered through telecommunications technology, is becoming highly fashionable. During the first nine months of 2014, the sector attracted total investment of $172 million, a substantial figure though not up to the level of e-health’s digital bigger brother, Big Data and Analytics. In the United States at least, telemedicine is now regarded as an ‘everyday’ service which is being more widely used as the opportunities offered by information and communication technology increase. However, US legislation is still proving a limiting factor, and the expansion of the on-demand approach to providing medical help is currently dependent on good relations between the providing firms and local or state authorities.
In this sector, San Francisco-based startup Doctor On Demand is the fastest growing company. It secured Series A funding amounting to $21 million from well-known tech investors including Andreessen Horowitz and Google Ventures in August and has a large network of qualified and certified medical doctors. It offers on-demand medical services for run-of-the-mill illnesses at a fixed price of $40 per consultation, plus also specialist pediatric care and counselling on breast-feeding for new mothers, also at a fixed fee per consultation. Patients can get in touch with a doctor fast via an app which is available for iOS and Android devices and also the web.
Meanwhile Doctor On Demand has just added a new range of services linked to mental health needs, not on-demand this time but available on a traditional appointment basis via the app. As Doctor On Demand has a network of 300 psychologists, there is a considerable choice of therapists. Prices range from $50 for a 25 minute consultation to $95 for 50 minutes. Prior to the consultation, the patient is expected to provide some basic details and answer questions regarding the problems s/he is encountering.
The company’s Chief Medical Officer Dr Pat Basu argues that the virtual consultation approach will help people to overcome their reluctance to consult a therapist regarding their psychological issues. Other startups, including New York-based iCouch and Pretty Padded Room – a graduate of the iconic US seed accelerator Y Combinator – offer similar psychotherapy services, the main difference being that patients can be cross-referenced to physician care should they need prescription medication or treatment for specific medical conditions. The new addition to the app services may seem an ambitious step, but according to the United States national public health institute, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 50% of all US citizens will experience mental or emotional health issues at some point in their lives but a significant proportion of these will be too wary of the supposed stigma to seek professional help for their condition.