The company's AI-based platform has seen increased interest during the COVID pandemicRead more...
The company uses AI and machine learning for mental health diagnoses
Last month, Vator, along with HP, held a salon called SplashX Invent Health: Mental and Behavioral Health, where we had groups of entrepreneurs and investors discuss the space, including some of the innovations and some of the problems that need to be solved.
One of the biggest problems identified by those panelists is how mental and behavioral health disorders are diagnosed. The consensus is that there's a big difference between those who have a severe mental disorder and those who are simply in need of better wellness, but that many people in the second category are treated the same as those in the first, getting supplied with drugs they don't need and which don't help them.
What we do need are better ways to diagnose mental health issues. Spring Health wants to be the company to provide that, which it does through machine learning and artificial intelligence. That allows it not only better diagnose the patient but also match them up with the right doctor to help them with their specific issues.
On Thursday, the company announced the close of its $6 million seed round, from an all-female group of investors. The round was led by Rethink Impact with additional strategic investments by BBGV, The Partnership Fund for New York City, and Work-Bench. Existing investors RRE Ventures and William K. Warren Foundation contributed to the round pro-rata. This round brings the company's total amount raised up to $8 million.
Founded in 2016, Spring Health works with employers to offer a digital mental health benefit that gives employees access to mental healthcare that is designed specifically for them.
"About two years ago I realized from personal experience, and from the experience of my close friends and family, that the path to recovery from a mental health condition is really long. I watched by best friend go through seven anti-depressants and multiple providers to find a regiment that worked for her," April Koh, co-founder and CEO of Spring Health, told me in an interview.
"I realized through that process that mental healthcare is really just a guessing game and one size definitely doesn’t fit all. I wanted to use data and AI to build a platform that can connect you with the right care for you from the very beginning so that we can cut out the guessing, and eliminate the trial and error that goes into the care."
Spring Health works with companies of all sizes, from national Fortune 500 companies to high growth tech companies, working with them to "craft the right message around mental health" for their employees.
"A lot of these employers are excited about Spring because we can help them raise awareness about mental health issues in the workplace. They’re excited about using us to reduce stigma in the workplace. So we market to employees and get them excited and signed up," Koh explained to me.
Once an employee signs up, they have to fill out a questionnaire, which screens them for a variety of conditions. That results in a "holistic understanding of the person’s mental health and, from there, they receive a personalized wellness plan based on all the data that that Spring has collected up front. The employee will also be matched with a care navigator who will be their guide and help navigate them through the entire process and answer any questions that they have.
Spring Health is able to match employees and doctors through its proprietary machine learning, which was developed at Yale.
"As far as I know, we do have some of the most sophisticated precision psychiatry tools on the market. Our machine learning algorithms are able to predict to the highest level of accuracy what treatment would work for someone," said Koh.
"The matching depends on the severity of the condition, the different conditions that you’re struggling with. We try to match you with a provider who’s race and gender, and all these other things, match what you prefer but also providers who specialize in the conditions that you’re struggling with. From there, they can see you either virtually or in person, and we track your progress over time, so we’re very much a data driven product. We collect data upfront, baseline, and then we continue to collect data on how you’re doing throughout the journey so that we can make sure that you’re getting better as quickly as possible."
Spring has contracts with mental health providers, who have to go through a six stage vetting process before they are allowed on the platform.
"We have really rigorous, high standards for the providers we work with; we want to make sure they’re committed to evidence-based practice and they have a minimum number of years that they’ve practiced and they have all requisite experience and a good bedside manner and tech savvyness is also something that we screen for, said Koh. "We really do work with a premium network. From there, the matching process really depends on what the individual’s struggling with, what their personal preferences are and where they’re located is also usually a factor."
While she would not say how many customers or providers are on the platform right now, Koh did tell me that Spring is seeing high engagement, with one out of every three employees across all clients signing up for the service.
Tor the employers who sign up for Spring, the return on investment is two-fold, she told me; the first way that impact is measured is through speed to recovery, which is seven weeks faster than conventional care. The second way Spring measures impact on employers is financial.
"Obviously employers care about how much we can save them in terms of cost, and what we were able to see from early data is that within three months of launching with the company we usually reduce behavioral health spend for that employer by 10 percent. What we’re seeing is that people make up the investment, they’ll make up the amount they paid for Spring, in the three months of working with us."
While there are a lot of companies also offering HR benefits, what Spring is doing is "truly novel," said Koh, because it is using data to personalize care.
"What’s different about Spring is that, not only do we improve access, but we recognize that you can give me the best psychiatrist in New York City, right now, right this second and I would still have to essentially use trial and error to find a treatment regimen that will work for me because that’s just how psychiatry is largely practiced today," she said.
"What we realized is not only should we improve access, by putting everything online and making the experience seamless and wonderful, but also we need to solve for this treatment issue and use precision psychiatry tools, use precision medicine algorithms, to personalize care and be able predict what treatment would work for a patient. So that’s the biggest differentiator between us and competitors, and we don’t really see that in the benefits space yet."
The other key differentiator that she mentioned for Spring is the amount of clinical validation and evidence the company bases its matches on.
"We have our roots in academia, we have our roots in evidence. We have 22 published papers in top medical journals, so think JAMA and Lancet Psychiatry. We’ve placed an emphasis on that from the very beginning, so I like to say I’m often surprised by how many tech apps exist on the market purporting to solve these clinical mental health issues without the evidence to back up those claims. I think when something untested enters the market it’s actually really risky and dangerous for the patient so, with Spring, what’s very different is that we’ve always had an evidence first approach, we are committed to only utilizing proven approaches and proven practices."
The future of Spring Health
With this new funding, Spring Health says it will continue expand its product and scale to offer wellness benefits nationwide, meaning it will be going to all 50 states.
"What were seeing prior to raising money was that the demand was just crazy high, it was incredibly strong, and some of the high satisfaction scores and high utilization rates were spreading word of mouth, and not only did our clients want to expand their services with us, but we were getting more and more demand from national clients with employee bases across all 50 states, so we’re going to be going national," said Koh.
"Essentially it means we will be laying out the infrastructure, continuing to recruit top notch providers, and working through all the regulatory barriers to be able to practice medicine across all 50 states."
Ultimately, Spring's goal is to shake up the status quo in mental healthcare, which right now consists of people who have misconceptions about treatment, along with stigmas toward those who receive it. It also means a world where it's difficult for people to receive the care that they need.
"Often people will not be equipped for the right resources to access care in a timely way. So you might just not receive the right care for months and months and once you actually do decide you want to seek help you end up having to call an 800 number, which is probably your employee assistance program, if you have that at work, and then you’ll get a static list of provider names and their phone numbers that you’ll have to proactively go through and schedule a first visit. From there, the providers might not even pick up the phone, they might ask you to wait a month before they see you," Koh said.
Spring's vision for what mental healthcare will look like going forward is a world where it's largely virtual and much more precise and data driven.
"We want the workplace to be a lot more open about these issues work with us to share the message around mental health much more widely and effectively," she told me.
"When you think about that vision that we’re already enacting, it’s focused on two things: it’s focused on digital, it’s focused on virtual, but it’s also focused on eliminating trial and error and bringing much more precise and much more successful mental healthcare experiences to the table."
Correction: The name of The Partnership Fund for New York City has been updated
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Spring Health is reinventing mental health care from the ground up, making the journey to emotional well-being more convenient and personalized. Spring offers a digital mental health clinic, personalized by AI, made personal by humans. We equip the best providers with leading AI to deliver the best care possible.