In digital behavioral health companies, clinicians should be included in the early stages of startups in order to ensure clinical quality from the very beginning. However, clinicians transitioning from a clinical role to joining a digital behavioral health startup often find it challenging to navigate the new terminology, culture, and norms. But clinicians have essential expertise and skills crucial to a behavioral health company’s success.
When building a mental health startup, it’s important to utilize clinicians’ skills and expertise and to pay them appropriately. A survey by Therapists in Tech found that clinicians who did not use their clinical license in their current positions tended to earn more (about $20k) than respondents who did utilize their clinical license in their current role. Mental health is historically poorly reimbursed, but low pay in the corporate world can also hinder progress as a mental health company. In addition to paying clinicians appropriately, there are several ways to effectively utilize mental health clinicians in behavioral health startups.
Listening to Clinicians
When asked about the differences these clinicians see between companies that have a strong clinical voice versus those that do not, licensed clinical social worker Jaclyn Satchel points out that not having a strong clinical foundation can lead to a lack of clinical quality standards. She continues, “I believe that the lack of clinical quality standards turns into ignoring patient safety.” Patient safety and care should be baked into each company from the very beginning, and this happens organically when clinical leaders are involved from day one.
In the same panel with Jaclyn, panelists also dove into the balance between tech and touch and what both patients and providers think is the right balance. Dr. Hannah Weisman mentions that the field is still trying to understand, “how do you get people to engage with kinds of technology solutions, because the thing I keep seeing is that consumers still want the high touch support, regardless of their level of acuity. So I think there’s this mismatch in a way between being more efficient, but that’s not necessarily what the consumers are demanding.” Dr. Jessica Jackson echoes, “my humble prediction is that we’re going to get to a point where we need to integrate touch with tech. The reality is that no matter how far we get with technology, humans still want connection. “Finding the right balance will lead to better patient retention.
Dr. Grin Lord explains, “there are business decisions that are being made to make care efficient and to increase reach, but they may not be the appropriate clinical decisions. Every step of the way, you need a clinician helping you to understand how to balance those business needs and scalability with the appropriate clinical care.” Having a clinician on your leadership team can help you navigate multifaceted decisions where your team has to consider both profit and appropriate clinical care.
Clinicians Transitioning to Tech
One thing that stuck out during our conversation is that clinicians who are working at digital health startups are looking to use their clinician expertise, but they are interested in work beyond just the clinical scope. However, Dr. Lord mentions, “so unfortunately… there’s still stigma or perceptions that you can’t both be a caregiver and have business acumen.” In her experience, she has found many clinicians excited to be involved and trusted with business decisions, but they can sometimes be overlooked as true business partners.
Advice for Startups and Employers
Dr. Lord mentions, “there seems to be a predominant business model that’s based on the commodification of therapists. And at the end of the day, the unit economics of basically doing cheaper sessions… It’s ultimately not going to work. So the business that figures that out… how to retain clinicians and make them happy, I think it’s going to be – long term – very successful.” Dr. Lord further explains that clinicians have active licenses and can individually contract with insurance companies, so in order for companies to retain their clinical talent and reduce churn, they have to keep their clinicians happy and well-paid.
Additionally, panelists talked about the relationship between rapid growth and clinical quality. Dr. Lord mentions that many companies are relying on the “lifetime value of…both the provider and the patient. And right now, what we’re seeing is high churn in both areas, when this quality problem hasn’t been solved.” She continues that patients look for a therapist-like relationship that is continuous over time, and “if your company can’t retain your therapists, you will lose…the patients.” This patient-provider relationship has to be a core part of the business model, and “it has to be viewed as a continuous one and one worth investing in intentionally. And once you can figure that out… I think there’s going to be huge impact and successes from a business standpoint.” True leaders in this field will be able to recognize this from the beginning and not try to approach clinical quality as an afterthought that can be solved while expanding.
Top Tips for Startups
There is so much valuable and actionable insight from our conversation with the Therapists in Tech team. To hear our full conversation, please visit our video library.