Expanding Behavioral Health Access For Underserved Populations: Solomé Tibebu’s Mission – Forbes

0
21

There’s a reason that venture capital-backed mental and behavioral health startups in the U.S. received nearly $2 billion in funding in the first few months of 2021, according to Dealroom data. From investors, entrepreneurs and digital health startups, to providers, employers and health plans, stakeholders are doubling down on innovative solutions, tech-focused partnerships and new care models to address the country’s urgent need for better, more accessible behavioral health care.

Data from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) from 2019 shows that 20.6% of all U.S. adults — an estimated 51.5 million people aged 18 or older — experienced any mental illness (AMI). NAMI data also shows that one in every five teens has or will develop a serious mental illness — with 50% of all lifetime cases beginning by age 14, and most of those going undetected and untreated. 

The pandemic hasn’t made things any easier. Add physician shortages and the impact of Covid-19 to the equation — where 42% of U.S. adults reported anxiety and depression symptoms in 2020, up from 11% in previous years — and what the healthcare industry has is a behavioral health pandemic unto itself. But for one behavioral health leader, who knows the challenges of navigating mental healthcare access first hand, there’s still an incredible amount of “white space” for continued innovation — and an opportunity to do better.   

“I Want To Shine A Light Around The Challenge And Opportunity” 

Solomé Tibebu always knew that technology would drive opportunities in behavioral health care access and treatment, with her personal journey with mental illness starting as a teen. Today, as a behavioral health tech strategist who’s passionate about health equity and access, Tibebu is committed to convening and connecting the right individuals, companies and investors to make progress in the field possible. She also hosts the Going Digital: Behavioral Health Tech summit, the largest conference focused on virtual behavioral health access and innovation in the country, convening virtually on June 3. 

MORE FOR YOU

Below, Tibebu weighs in on what the future of the behavioral health landscape looks like, conditions for its success, the white space that’s ripe for disruption, and how new technologies, platforms and partnerships are helping consumers prioritize their mental health. 

Question: Investment in mental and behavioral health tech hit records in 2020, and we seem to be accelerating further. As an investor, consultant, and someone connected to innovators, what trends are you seeing?

“Some of the major trends have included the adoption of more explicit measurement-based care efforts integrated within virtual behavioral health solutions, expansion into other modalities of care such as coaching, and continued consolidation in the space. Per JAMA, measurement-based care (MBC) is the systematic evaluation of patient symptoms before or during an encounter to inform behavioral health treatment. As payers and vendors seek to advance their understanding of cost and quality of the behavioral health interventions they deliver to members and patients, the adoption of more rigorous MBC tools is becoming more popular.

Additionally, many vendors are expanding their treatment modalities from just teletherapy with a mental health professional to things like virtual coaching. In the last several weeks, Meru Health and Doctor on Demand announced their new coaching offerings, and Ginger announced Cigna’s coverage of their coaching benefit. Finally, tons of funding is going into condition-specific startups including those focused on substance use care, autism and more.” 

Q: What kinds of behavioral health innovations and solutions are impressing you most?

“Many companies are getting more sophisticated about how they integrate physical and behavioral health solutions. For so long, mental health has been left out of the mainstream healthcare system. But when we treat behavioral health issues in patients, there is a significant impact on overall physical health, too. Companies like Magellan Health, Ontrak and Vida Health are some of the organizations that are making a difference, and will be talking more about how they are taking a unique approach to address whole-person care at the Going Digital summit. 

Like I mentioned earlier, as the space starts to mature, it’s exciting to see new companies expand into more focused, condition-specific and population-specific solutions. While early startups in the space address mental health issues like mild and moderate anxiety and depression more broadly, now we have startups like nOCD for virtual obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) care and Equip for virtual eating disorder care. These companies are founded by passionate founders with deep condition expertise and understand the specific nuances of delivering virtual care for those conditions. 

nOCD helps people reclaim their lives with clinically-proven OCD treatment, by removing barriers to care and reducing the stigma associated with OCD. Their innovative telehealth platform lets members quickly access a national network of licensed therapists who specialize in Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), the “gold standard” for OCD treatment. nOCD will be presenting their breakthrough independent research study with Santa Barbara Actuaries based on millions of de-identified national healthcare claims that will reveal the prevalence of OCD in the U.S. population, the levels of care that OCD patients transition through, and the comparative costs of different treatments. 

Equip recently announced a Series A financing round worth $13 million led by Optum Ventures along with .406 Ventures and F-Prime Capital to scale their model, which has totally disrupted care delivery for this condition. Equip makes gold-standard eating disorder care accessible to all people through Family-Based Treatment (FBT) delivered at home for lasting recovery. Created by experts in the field and people who’ve been there, Equip builds upon this model of care by providing families with a dedicated five-person care team including a therapist, dietitian, physician, and peer & family mentor.”

Q: Is there still a white space ripe for disruption?

“Absolutely! One area that is really heating up in just the last year is companies focused on youth mental health, so much so that we needed to add an entire Youth Track at the summit, specifically aimed at highlighting the many novel interventions for children, adolescents and young adults. The track is co-sponsored by Hopelab, a social innovation lab focused on designing science-based technologies to improve the health and well-being of teens and young adults, and the Telosity fund, a venture fund aimed at  investing in extraordinary founders harnessing technology to improve mental well-being in young people.

Youth have struggled so much throughout this pandemic, and I’m proud to be able to host a panel with some of our Upswing Fund for Adolescent Mental Health grant recipients to hear how they are delivering much needed-services digitally for LGBTQ+ youth and adolescents of color, in particular. The Upswing Fund for Adolescent Mental Health is a philanthropic fund that I lead, seeded by Pivotal Ventures, an investment and incubation company created by Melinda Gates, to advance social progress in the United States. 

I’m looking forward to seeing how companies include or address caregiver resources to support a variety of conditions. Additionally, there is still a lot of opportunity for companies to address serious and persistent mental illness (SPMI), but a few startups are just starting to emerge to address it.”  

Q: Are there any employers that you believe have gotten workforce mental health support ‘right’, especially over the past year? If yes, what does that look like and what are some of the necessary components of success?

“One example I’m looking forward to highlighting is the work taking place at YouTube. Dr. Jessica DiVento, Psy.D., chief mental health advisor at YouTube, will be joining us at the summit to discuss the many ways the company is supporting employee mental health. They have been thoughtful to make sure they have mental health services for all levels of care, through a variety of different means. This is important because with such a large and diverse workforce, they are able to offer different entry points to support employees’ access to mental health care in ways that they want to engage.

But it doesn’t mean much to just invest in mental health solutions for employees if it isn’t promoted properly. YouTube has been thoughtful about marketing the various tools and resources to employees far and wide, but also engaging every individual, department, and executive leadership team to promote the solutions as well. 

It’s important that everyone from peers, direct managers, to senior leadership are all on board to build a culture of mental health and wellbeing, and that they facilitate formal channels for each of those stakeholders to discuss and promote mental health.” 

Q: As the telemedicine industry continues to work for broader reimbursement and policymaker support, creating more access for at-risk groups will make a strong argument. What’s required to improve mental healthcare access to vulnerable and underserved populations?

“For many individuals, significant barriers continue to exist for underserved populations to access quality mental health care. Everything from increased stigma in certain communities to a lack of addressed social determinants of health (SDoH) can lead to underserved communities not being able to get appropriate behavioral health services. 

One example of an organization doing a great job of expanding access to care is CommonSpirit Health, a national nonprofit health system serving communities at more than 1,000 care sites and 137 hospitals across 21 states. The organization has a new partnership with Concert Health, a collaborative care startup. Together, the organizations are placing CommonSpirit’s primary care physicians (PCPs) at the center of all physical and behavioral aspects of care by connecting patients with Concert Health’s remotely located behavioral health care managers, who provide therapy and develop a behavioral health care plan for each patient.

The partnership between CommonSpirit and Concert Health is based on Collaborative Care Management, an evidenced-based model proven to improve behavioral health conditions such as depression and anxiety within the primary care setting. This is important because there is a lot of drop-off between a PCP making a referral to a behavioral health specialist and the patient actually being able to see that behavioral health specialist, for many of the barriers I named earlier. By empowering PCPs to have access to behavioral health specialists right at their fingertips, they are able to get the patient the quality mental health support they need. Additionally, this partnership with Concert Health enables CommonSpirit to provide a seamless, integrated physical and mental health experience.” 

Q: Are there any technology companies or initiatives making a measurable impact?

“One thing I’m proud to see is more VC funding going to entrepreneurs who represent the underserved populations they’re working to impact. Kevin Dedner, founder and CEO of Hurdle Health, recently announced $5 million in seed funding from .406 Ventures, Seae Ventures and F-Prime. Hurdle is a digital mental-health platform revolutionizing mental-health care by providing mental-health services with a focus on culturally sensitive self-care support for people of color. While this is great news, there still needs to be so much more funding going toward entrepreneurs of color and LGBTQ+ founders in healthcare and beyond.  

In addition to Hurdle Health, I’m pleased to have other culturally-sensitive companies at the Going Digital Conference. Having experienced the difficulties of finding culturally competent care first hand as a queer individual, and while building Oscar Health, Gaurang Choksi is now building the healthcare industry’s first cultural competency credentialing system, Violet

At Violet, they believe that improving access to culturally competent care requires improving the underlying dataset and building a platform that functions as the “credit score” for cultural competence. This will enable the industry to identify the best providers for each community, and help cultural minorities like Gaurang access the healthcare they deserve.

Additionally, Candlelit Therapy, founded by Lauren Elliott, offers a safer, simpler way to find and book culturally responsive mental health information, resources and providers and centers the emotional and mental health needs of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and the LGBTQIA+ birthing parents.”

Q: Your event, Going Digital: Behavioral Health Tech, is taking place virtually on June 3, 2021. Who is the event for and what are some of the “can’t miss” sessions/topics that will be covered?

“The Going Digital: Behavioral Health Tech summit is the largest conference focused on virtual behavioral health access and innovation. The summit convenes health plans, employers and benefits professionals, health systems, providers, investors, and startups to share best practices for deploying effective, scalable behavioral health solutions to all individuals in light of COVID-19 and beyond. The virtual forum will showcase the changing technological, reimbursement, and policy landscape for telehealth and other virtual behavioral health solutions.”

Q: What was the catalyst for the event – why was it needed?

“Ultimately, I want to shine a light around the challenge and opportunity to expand access to underserved populations in several ways: in terms of expanding access to mental health services through technology and innovation and even creating a conference platform like Going Digital: Behavioral Health Tech that is more accessible.  From the fact that the conference is FREE for all attendees, to the virtual-first setup, and finally with the fact that proceeds go to a nonprofit like the Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective, we’ve thought of every detail to bring more innovators, payers, employers, providers, investors and policymakers of all backgrounds into the conversation to expand access to mental health for all. I’m thrilled that we could create a platform for so many unique voices to share their advances, innovations and efforts in this space.”

Q: What should folks know about BEAM, the organization to which proceeds from the conference are going?

Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective (BEAM) is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit collective of advocates, yoga teachers, artists, therapists, lawyers, religious leaders, teachers, psychologists and activists committed to the emotional/mental health and healing of Black communities. Their mission is to remove the barriers that Black people experience getting access to or staying connected with emotional health care and healing. They do this through education, training, advocacy and the creative arts. 


About Solomé  Tibebu: Solomé Tibebu is a behavioral health technology strategist passionate about health equity and access. Solomé  leads The Upswing Fund for Adolescent Mental Health and she is the host of the Going Digital: Behavioral Health Tech summit. Prior to consulting various stakeholders on all things behavioral health technology, Solomé  worked in corporate development, venture capital, behavioral health EHR software, ran a mental health tech startup, founded AnxietyInTeens.org, and has been developing healthcare startup communities since 2012. Solomé  is an advisor or board director to several behavioral health companies, funds and national nonprofits. 

About Going Digital: Behavioral Health Tech: The Going Digital: Behavioral Health Tech summit is the largest conference focused on virtual behavioral health access and innovation.  The summit convenes health plans, employers and benefits professionals, health systems, providers, investors, and startups to share best practices for deploying effective, scalable behavioral health solutions to all individuals in light of COVID-19 and beyond. Founded and hosted by Solomé  Tibebu, the virtual forum will showcase the changing technological, reimbursement, and policy landscape for telehealth and other virtual behavioral health solutions. Join us with thousands of other healthcare professionals working to make mental health and substance use care more accessible for all. All proceeds of the event will support BEAM (Black Emotional Mental Health and Wellness Collective).  Visit us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here