Scaling Digital Therapeutics for an Equitable Future

Published on:
January 20, 2022

The demand for digital therapeutics has accelerated as technology has advanced, provider shortages persist, and more consumers are looking for solutions to their mental health concerns amid the pandemic. Digital therapeutics serve as non-drug alternatives to support mental wellbeing and they are also reducing barriers to care for underserved populations. 

Big Health, a digital therapeutics company dedicated to helping millions back to good mental health, has pioneered and scaled the industry-leading reimbursement model for digital therapeutics via the pharmacy benefit manager. This week, the company announced its $75 million Series C funding round. I had the opportunity to talk to Celeste James, Vice President of Equity & Population Health, about the importance of digital therapeutics and Big Health’s goal for health equity, including their quest of ensuring 50% of their users come from medically underserved populations.

What is Sleepio and Daylight, your digital therapeutics? 

Sleepio and Daylight are Big Health’s first two digital therapeutics for insomnia and anxiety, respectively.

Sleepio is a multi-week sleep improvement program featuring cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help people fall asleep faster, stay asleep through the night, and feel better during the day.

Daylight is a digital therapeutic intended for the treatment of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). The program takes automated CBT and other techniques, including tense & release and worry time, and fully automates to provide evidenced-based care without intervention from therapists or other medical professionals. 

Both Sleepio and Daylight are proven to provide safe and effective non-drug alternatives for common mental health conditions and in separate controlled studies, helped 76% of patients achieve clinical improvement in insomnia, and helped 71% of patients achieve clinical improvement in anxiety.

In light of provider shortages and subpar tools on the market today, why are these important innovations? 

We are at a unique moment of opportunity as the pandemic has led to increased prevalence of mental health conditions, making mental health care a top priority for payers, health systems, and patients. As a result, the shortcomings of traditional models of care have become clear: human-delivered therapy, even when enabled by technology, is insufficient to meet the ever-growing level of need, resulting in long wait times, provider shortages, and rising costs. For this and other reasons, mental health remains one of the most inequitable areas of health care.

Further, the reality today is the vast majority of patients with a mental health condition seek care within primary care, with more than 80% receiving medication. Separate clinical research has shown that these medications are often associated with moderately severe side effects and/or adverse events, and minimal long-term benefits. 

Digital therapeutics, however, provide safe, effective non-drug alternatives and evidence-based care, including cognitive behavioral therapy, through a pure software solution without coaches or clinicians – reducing barriers to care. This care delivery model allows us to reach individuals who otherwise wouldn’t have access to care due to barriers such as transportation, insurance and out-of-pocket costs. When created and implemented thoughtfully, digital therapeutics provide a consistent and equitable experience for users, reducing stigma and avoiding biases that often occur in traditional mental health treatment, and thus, improving health outcomes at great scale.

You have had a huge focus on health equity, help our audience understand how Big Health has centered on this work?

In April 2021, Big Health shared a public commitment to mental health equity, which includes a long-term goal of ensuring 50% of our users come from medically underserved populations. As part of Big Health’s commitment to increasing mental health equity, the team developed three specific goals addressing our internal structures and external impact:

  1. People: building a diverse team & equitable systems
  2. Product: ensuring our therapeutics are inclusive
  3. Populations: reaching & supporting those who are underserved

Today, 38% of Big Health’s leadership team consists of women or underrepresented minorities. Although we are still shy of our long-term ambition of having the diversity of our workforce reflect that of our user base, I am encouraged by the team’s progress to date. However, we must continue improving diversity and inclusion at Big Health to ensure that Black, Latinx and LGBTQ+ communities among others are better represented within our employee base.

Big Health aims to ensure that millions of people have access to evidence-based mental health care – the north star that drives all decision-making in the organization – and that we deliver equitable outcomes regardless of ZIP code, race, or economic status. In my role as Vice President of Equity & Population Health, I am supporting Big Health’s mental health equity goals by being integrally involved in our product development, go-to-market strategies, and business operations to ensure we bring an equity mindset to all that we do to scale access to good mental health.

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