Health

How Regroup is bringing the shrink’s couch online (exclusive)

Above: The Regroup team uses their video technology for weekly meetings

The goal of the Affordable Care Act is to lower escalating health costs, and incentivize doctors to keep patients healthy — not by ordering a slew of expensive tests.

Smart investors and entrepreneurs are considering the new opportunities created by health care reform. As we recently reported, tele-health or technology-assisted remote care is a particularly hot space. This trend includes tele-psychiatry, which offers a more affordable way for patients to connect with a therapist on a secure video line.

Regroup is one of a handful of fast-growing startups in the tele-psychiatry category, which also includes Palo Alto, Calif.-based Breakthough.

Today, Regroup is launching to the public, with well over a dozen mental health professionals on board. You won’t just find psychiatrists on Regroup — but life coaches and fertility specialists too.

According to Chicago-based chief executive David Cohn, it’s a huge market opportunity, given that roughly 62 million adults in the United States have a mental condition.

On Regroup, anyone with a webcam and an Internet connection can request a private session with a therapist, or join an upcoming session. You don’t need to have a diagnosed disorder to talk to a therapist on Regroup — anyone can sign up.

Prices for group and private sessions vary — it costs roughly $100 to $150 for a 30 minute video chat.

In the past, it would have cost you thousands of dollars out of pocket to regularly chat with a therapist on the Internet. “We’re getting there [as] in the vast majority of cases, insurance will cover one of these sessions,” said Cohn.

Now in 23 states, insurance providers are required to reimburse people for online health services. In addition, the Affordable Care Act mandates that insurance providers offer coverage for these patients that is “comparable to coverage for general medical and surgical care” beginning in 2014.

Regroup is growing quickly, with traffic increasing 60 percent month over month.

Some experts are concerned that services like Regroup will lead to a rise in misdiagnoses. Psychiatrists might miss the subtle signs of an underlying condition on a video stream, as it’s easier to interpret body language in person.

At UC Davis, researchers just received a $2.5 million grant to study videotaped interviews with patients, and assess whether the quality of care is any better or worse than a visit to the therapist’s office.

Cohn doesn’t dismiss this argument entirely, but stresses that one of the advantages of telepsychiatry is that it’s low touch. The stigma around mental health treatment has not abated in the U.S.. Some patients might feel more comfortable chatting with a therapist in their own home.

Cohn stresses that the connection is secure, given that Regroup’s team of engineers hacked their own video technology, using open source communication project WebRTC.

“In my opinion, not seeing your therapist is like not having your teeth cleaned,” said Cohn, whose wife is from Argentina, where most people see a therapist on a regular basis. “We are going to be part of what makes that happen here,” he said.

Regroup has raised $200,000 from an anonymous angel investor in Tennessee. The company plans to raise a first round of funding in the near future, so it can expand its team of marketing professionals and engineers.

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