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The company has seen an influx of activity since the start of the COVID pandemic
Even before COVID hit, there was a mental health crisis happening in America, with around 20 percent of the US population having a diagnosed mental health condition, but roughly between 60 and 70 percent of those people not getting adequate care. On top of that, 50 percent of US counties have zero mental health providers.
"What we were seeing pre-COVID is that these curves were getting worse. So, far more people are presenting with anxiety, depression, suicidality. The number of providers going into this space is shrinking and the number of providers that are retiring is growing. So, you've got these huge issues today, projected to be even bigger issues and in 5 to 10 years," said Russell Glass, CEO of Ginger, a provider of virtual mental health tools.
COVID, he told me, "is a perfect storm of behavioral health concerns."
"From increased loneliness to anxiety, due to worries about financial pressures, worries about getting sick or family members getting sick, worries about how you're going to deal with your child’s schooling, all the way to other downstream effects of being isolated for as long as people are needing to be isolated due to shelter in place orders and lockdown orders. So, we see this as being a significant accelerant to the need that is crushing an already overburdened system."
Luckily, even when they still might not feel comfortable seeing someone face-to-face, there are services like Ginger that allow people to still be able to access mental health services via live video and chat, so they can get the help they need.
The company's solution is gaining traction with its members, as well as with investors: Ginger announced on Thursday that it raised a $50 million Series D funding round led by Advance Venture Partners and Bessemer Venture Partners. Additional participants include Cigna Ventures and existing investors such as Jeff Weiner, Executive Chairman of LinkedIn, and Kaiser Permanente Ventures.
This latest round of investment brings the company’s total funding to over $120 million. While the company is not disclosing its current valuation, Glass would tell me it has tripled from its last funding round and now "in the hundreds of millions."
Along with the funding, Ginger has also reveal that it added two new members to its board of directors: David ibnAle, a Founding Partner of Advance Venture Partners, and Steve Kraus, a Partner at Bessemer Venture Partners.
"There is incredible culture fit with both of these individuals. David is just a world class person and investor. They are investing in largely companies that are using technology to bring needed solutions to the world at scale and he just fits brilliantly into the kind of innovation and kind of culture we're trying to build here. Steve is also an incredible culture fit, and he brings immense depth of experience in healthcare and healthcare investing," said Glass.
"It's just an incredible combination for us to accelerate our growth, to see around corners, to strategically be able to think through what is a complex space and make good decisions as we scale."
Giving users the right level of care
There are currently millions of people are able to access Ginger through the company's partnerships with employers, health plans, and strategic partners.
The company has over 200 companies who offer its services to their employees, including Delta Air Lines, Sanofi, Chegg, Domino’s, SurveyMonkey, and Sephora. Members can also access the service through Ginger's relationships with health plans, including Optum Behavioral Health, Anthem California, and Aetna Resources for Living.
When someone first uses Ginger, they are initially set up with what is known as a "coach," rather than with a therapist or a psychologist. Coaches are people who have at least six months of care that they’ve been providing under clinical oversight, and who usually have a behavioral health coaching certificate from one of the large universities, but who don’t have licensure to provide therapy level of care. The app uses technology, such as natural language processing, which is able to monitors member chats, as well as the coach's determination, to see if more care is required.
If it's determined that more care is needed for a particular patient, then a therapist or psychologist will be brought in, to work alongside the coach to give that individual the care they need.
"85 percent of the time, that we'll be continuing to work with the coach, and the coach will bring in content exercises, they’ll do things like motivational interviewing and smart goal setting to help that member start to take action against these needs that they have. 15 percent of the time, that member is going to need more care. And that's where bringing therapists in," Glass explained.
"If medication management is needed, or predicted to be needed, we’ll bring a psychiatrist in, in order to surround this person with the right level of care for as long as they need that higher level of care. The coach continues to be longitudinal and continues to support that person through those care pathways. Eventually, the vast majority of the time, that patient will step it back down to coaching to continue their journey and resolve their mental health needs."
A collaborative care model
The reason that Ginger starts people off at a lower level of care, and only moves them if it's determined to be necessary, is to make sure that people are getting to the right level of care, and not overuse that higher level.
"That allows our coaches and therapists to collaborate and make sure that people are accomplishing what rhe therapists want them to accomplish between sessions. And then the coach acts as steps down care once that member doesn't need the therapist anymore. Instead of them going into therapy forever, ongoing."
That combination of having coaches available 24/7, along with technology that's designed to help them personalize that care, allows the system to handle far more patients per hour or per day, than in a system that doesn't have that same collaborate and cooperation. That's also how the app is still able to connect patients with coaches within 73 seconds, up from 60 seconds pre-COVID, despite an influx of users onto the site.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the platform has seen an 80 percent plus increase in active coaching users, and a 25 percent increase of intensity in conversations, meaning that people are presenting with more significant concerns than they were before. Ginger has also seen roughly a 150 percent increase in its therapy and psychiatry sessions, its higher levels of care.
"Our belief is that you should never have to wait more than a minute to get access to care, let alone the weeks and weeks it takes today in the healthcare system. And so, our focus is less about the number of providers we have and more focused on how long it takes you to get access to care," Glass said.
Making mental health care accessible
The new funding that Ginger has raised will go, in part to research and development. That means building out its products and capabilities, as well as continuing to learn what works in mental health so that the company can deliver better personalized care, while also teaching others in the space how to do so as well.
The funding will also go toward expanding the company's partnerships, which may including companies servicing enterprises today, as well as more partnerships with payers.
"The Cigna investment here is an example of them seeing the importance of virtual care and seeing the importance of scalable care in mental health, in particular. There is a desire to help make sure that they can get this kind of thing out there to better support the populations they support," said Glass.
Even with the new funding, and the influx of users thanks to COVID, nothing has changed for Ginger, he told me; if anything, these developments have on;y sped up what the company was already doing.
"Ultimately, we see a world where mental health is never an obstacle, and we want to continue to execute against bending that supply/demand imbalance, delivering high quality, evidence-based care at scale, so that anybody in the world can access it," said Glass.
"We're excited and we feel fortunate that we're in a position here to help a lot of people. Ultimately, that's what it comes down to. This investment will help us make sure we can continue to help more and more people out there."
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