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In the wake of the pandemic, there’s an epidemic of mental health problems. Nirvana Health is tackling the problem, announcing today it has raised $4.2 million to help Americans find authorized therapists and to help therapists manage their paperwork.

That sounds like it should be simple, but navigating the maze of medical and insurance authorizations in the American mental health care system, which was already overburdened before the pandemic, can be a nightmare. And the surge of demand created by COVID-19 has left many Americans unable to find a therapist.

This presents a new crisis in the making, since the American mental health care system is chronically unequipped to meet demand, Akshay Venkitasubramanian, CEO of Nirvana Health, said in an interview with VentureBeat.

“We independently noticed there’s a huge gap in the needs in the mental health care space,” said Venkitasubramanian. “The reality is affordability of health care is a huge problem. People are more willing to talk about mental health care as the stigma is going down, but it is way too expensive. And there are a lot of reasons why it’s expensive. And that’s a specific problem that we’ve been wanting to tackle.”

The American Psychological Association said the surge for mental health services created by COVID-19 has left nearly 41% of mental health professionals reporting burnout, while 30% feel that they are ill equipped to meet the treatment demands.

“Everyone is talking about access, as affordability is the crux of the issue,” Venkitasubramanian said. “And the number one reason why people don’t get care or stop care was all about insurance. There’s a ton of demand for mental health care, but people want it to be covered by their insurance. We have to start with that basic problem. In the past, some people would be willing to pay $500 an hour for it, which is ridiculous. But the question is why isn’t my insurance company covering it? And so what we have is a situation where therapists don’t know how to work in this new world.”

“We build tools to help therapists better manage their practice and operate in this new world where everyone started to ask for help with their insurance,” Kelvin Chan, cofounder of Nirvana Health, in an interview. “That requires a lot of automation. And it requires a lot of tech integration with hundreds of different insurance companies. It’s making sure that the process is completely visible to both sides — to both the therapist and the patient looking for care. I mean, no one wants to be on the phone for 45 minutes with Cigna or Blue Cross Blue Shield, figuring out how much you can get covered.”

And by analogy, no one wants to go a supermarket and find out how much something costs after they buy it.

“They should know how much something costs before they buy it,” Chan said. “You have this huge friction in the market where people are just afraid. You don’t know how expensive it is, which is traumatizing. And so we do what can to build something that adds transparency to the situation. So essentially, as soon as you check your benefits, we tell you how much that session costs. Secondly, as soon as you pay for a session, all the insurance options for filing claims for reimbursement happens automatically. And that’s the experience we wanted to create, which is essentially, how do you take this archaic process, which today involves phone calls, and automate it.”

The funding

Above: Nirvana Health

Image Credit: Nirvana Health

The money in this funding round came from Eniac Ventures and Arc Ventures.

Hadley Harris, founding general partner at Eniac Ventures, said in a statement that COVID-19 threw open the floodgates for mental health patients and overwhelmed the therapists. Harris believes that Nirvana Health is key to solving this problem.

Adam Wang-Levine, Arc Ventures managing partner, said in a statement that access to mental health is one of the most important issues we face today and that we need to give therapists the tools to manage their businesses simply and affordably so that they can focus on taking care of their patients.

Since 2020, $1.37 billion in funding has been invested in online therapy startups aimed at connecting therapists to patients through companies like Lyra Health, Talkspace, and Spring Health. However, this change in the marketplace presents therapists with new challenges in managing their practice.

How it works

Above: Nirvana Health

Image Credit: Nirvana Health

Nirvana Health streamlines the day-to-day business functions of practice management for therapists so they can escape the time consuming back-office work needed to manage the financial health of their practice. With Nirvana Health, therapists can automate insurance paperwork and claims filing for both in-network and out-of-network insurance, process payments, and manage all their appointments in one easy program that is specially tailored for the mental health care industry.

The company serves several hundred therapists at this point, mostly from referrals alone, said Venkitasubramanian.

Since mental health care data is super sensitive, Nirvana Health has to prioritize how to keep that data protected. Nirvana Health taps into AI and machine learning so that it can automate a lot of the systems being used, said Venkitasubramanian.

“Therapists want to be able to see more clients, and they want us to be able to serve clients that come from different financial backgrounds,” he said. “We actually work with therapists who specifically want to approach a different kind of population and be able to accept different patients or different backgrounds financially. Our platform really enables therapists to stop thinking about how you’re going to get paid, because that’s all automated. Now you don’t think about it, and you can take care of your client.”

The company is working to scale its platform so it can get more therapists on board with a kind of self-serve platform. It’s working with large enterprises to enable their therapists to use the platform seamlessly. And it is increasing its integration into the payment chain so that payment processing gets handled correctly.

Venkitasubramanian said that his company has also managed to get back more than $1 million in therapy session reimbursements for consumers, thanks to how it handles the paperwork for therapists.

Above: The mental health care therapist shortage.

Image Credit: Nirvana Health

Online therapy companies, insurance providers, and employers have varying reimbursement scales, so a therapist’s revenue will vary depending on which company refers the patient. In addition, each company has a unique claims process and reimbursement timeline, which further complicates the daily operations of a therapist’s practice. As a result, therapists are confused about their finances, which jeopardizes their businesses and greatly increases their stress levels.

Venkitasubramanian and his cofounders believe that everyone should be able to receive mental health care. One way to increase the capacity of the overstretched system is to enable therapists to manage their practices better so they can see more clients and provide more focused care.

Above: Nirvana Health founders (l-r) CEO Akshay Venkitasubramanian, CTO Urvish Parikh, and CPO Kelvin Chan.

Image Credit: Nirvana Health

Launched in 2020, Nirvana Health joins the ranks of those presenting innovative technology to solve unique business challenges in underserved industries. By combining specialized technology and solutions in one platform, these companies offer tailored solutions to help businesses run smoothly. This approach has been extremely effective across a wide variety of sectors, with high-profile successes like Toast in the restaurant industry and Mindbody in wellness.

Nirvana Health’s customer base spans solo therapists, group practices, and larger enterprises like teletherapy marketplaces and EAPs.

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