Supporting Mental Health During a Global Pandemic

Podcast, Videos


Sam Duboc, Chair & CEO of MindBeacon, joined me for a timely discussion around virtual care and telehealth for treating depression, anxiety, addiction, and other conditions; mental health issues brought on by COVID-19, and how to virtually support mental wellbeing in the workplace. He also shared his tips for digital health entrepreneurs, startups, and investors, plus much more.

Here is a sneak peek of our conversation:

Q: I’m curious about your original business model around CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) associates and when the pivot [to virtual care] started? Where do CBT associates and the MindBeacon version–which is much more like chatbot, text, artificial intelligence-based therapy–fit in your business model, and was it COVID-based?

A: It wasn’t COVID-based. We’d actually pivoted long before COVID. By the way, the CBT business continues to exist. We use the same language you use: We have a synchronous business, an asynchronous business, and a business with no interaction with the therapist, more of a self-guided business.

I’m a firm believer that the future of all healthcare is asynchronous, not exclusively asynchronous, but the only way to massively scale and to massively see a whole bunch of people and make new treatments and ensure constant treatment, and monitoring everything else available, affordable, and accessible, is to do it in an asynchronous way. Having said that, a number of people want to interact with a therapist in a very synchronous way; they want to do what we’re doing right now. They want to come to one of our clinics, which right now are closed because of COVID, but will be open again. They want to come into a clinic and see someone in person. They want that human touch.

Mental health is about delivering what you need, how you’ll consume it, when you’ll consume it, etc. We realized that back in 2017 when we were building our clinics. We had built out a number of clinics in the GTA and were getting ready to expand the clinics even further. What we found and what we really discovered was that it was a great idea for about a third of the people. Two-thirds of people didn’t want to come into one of our clinics. They didn’t want to talk to anybody live.

Back to Oracle, they ran a study which they published in The Wall Street Journal back in December that said 82% of their people would rather talk to a bot than a person. Mental health is different than physical health. It’s not the kind of thing that we’re used to seeing where if you get a sore throat, “Boom! No problem. I’m going to go see a doctor, there’s no shame.”

There still is this perceived stigma. There’s still the issue of going and talking to your boss. There’s this issue of having to get time off. It’s not fully recognized and people aren’t fully comfortable with it. We really decided back then that we had to design a system that eliminated all the barriers, and the other big barrier is cost. If you go see one of our psychologists in our clinics or in our synchronous business today, that can be $250 an hour. I know in some clinics they charge $400 an hour and that’s unattainable for the vast majority of Canadians. I was fortunate that I could actually spend the $250 an hour. It became grating on me, like it was so much money every time I go see somebody.

What we tried to do is that we tried to develop a program that provided the right level of care for what’s affecting you now and what you’re ready to consume. Hence, if you look at what MindBeacon is all about, we’re all about a continuum of care, like guided, navigational, self-education information all the way up to and including crisis text, if you need to talk to someone. We have synchronous services where people can go and do one-on-one like this, or in a group.

We have asynchronous, where they communicate with their therapist and it’s a real person, a one-on-one relationship where they can communicate with their therapist via asynchronous messaging, either through our iCBT–Internet Cognitive Behavioral platform–or through our direct messaging platform. Again, it’s about delivering to you what you want, when you want, and how you want to consume it, because mental health isn’t physical health, it’s different…

For more of our discussion, you can watch the whole Fireside Chat with Sam Duboc, or listen to the podcast version, below.

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