“Anxiety and depression are the number one cause of absenteeism in the workplace today,” said Dr. Bob Kocher, a partner at Venrock, which just contributed to a major new funding round for Lyra Health, a new digital health startup that aims to address that problem.
Employee mental health problems cost employers both big and small real money, and lots of it, every year in lost work time and unplanned mental health care. A 2005 study said mental health problems cost employers between $80 billion and $100 billion every year. Another said depression alone cost U.S. employers $23 billion in 2013.
Lyra Health is a technology platform and a mental health care provider that works with employers to effectively screen for, treat, and coordinate care for employees suffering from mental health issues.
Kocher, who was once an adviser to the Obama administration on the Affordable Care Act, and Venrock partner Bryan Roberts worked with Lyra founder (and former CFO of Facebook and Genentech) David Ebersman and chief medical officer Dr. Dena Bravata (formerly chief medical officer and head of products at Castlight Health) to form the company in June.
Lyra uses human resources forms filled out by employees to proactively locate and reach out to people who may be prone to mental health issues. The company employs doctors who can work the patients on treatment plans and even prescribe or adjust medications if need be, Kocher said.
Kocher said that today the behavioral health and physical health superstructures have very little contact, which causes lots of care coordination problems. He said one of the main roles of Lyra is to act as a bridge between those two worlds to make sure the right information is shared with everyone — the employee’s primary care doctor and counselor, therapist, or psychologist.
Greylock Partners co-led the funding round with Venrock, which originally seed-funded the startup. The new round also includes funding from existing investor Castlight Health and new investors Providence Health & Services, Breyer Capital, and Origin Capital Management.
Kocher said Lyra will use the new funds to make its technology platform available to employers, health plans, and health care providers. Access to Lyra’s platform and services is sold to employers on a per-member, per-month basis. Employers should reap a return on the investment in reduced absenteeism and, hopefully, lowered health care costs overall.
Lyra isn’t the only company addressing the employee wellness market. Employee health engagement platforms are legion. Castlight offers employers Castlight Elevate, which also helps employers identify employees who may be at risk for mental health problems, and provides a platform where employees can access mental health care.
But Lyra may be unique because it takes a deep dive into the health care delivery system, acting as a conduit within existing systems to make sure mentally ill employees get treated by the right people, and treated well. The fact that it employs doctors and can function like a medical provider may also be unique.
And the startup has a quartet of rock stars in Kocher, Roberts, Ebersman, and Bravata, who can navigate the complex waters of mental health care delivery. Kocher and Roberts have worked with some great digital health companies, including Castlight and Aledade. The company’s leadership team also includes chief data scientist Dr. Daniella Perlroth and chief technology officer Daniel Tunkelang.
“This is the best nucleus of people I’ve seen in a company in my life,” Kocher said.