Amid the coronavirus pandemic, new entrants have flooded the behavioral health space, especially in the digital realm. The newest player moving in on the opportunity is a Google-affiliated house-call company that’s taking a slightly different approach.
Ready — an on-demand, in-home health service — is now offering behavioral health visits for patients in certain markets, a move that could create partnership opportunities for behavioral providers down the line.
While the COVID-19 emergency has increased the demand for behavioral health services, Ready first started pursuing the new offering about a year ago, when Chief Psychiatrist Carl Marci joined the company.
When Marci started, Ready was only serving patients in New Orleans and Las Vegas, providing medical services to screen and treat things like hypertension, diabetes and other physical illnesses. This year, it has expanded into 11 cities, including Baltimore, D.C., Miami, Los Angeles and New York, while also adding a bevy of new services to its list of offerings, including COVID-19 care.
The recent expansion was in part due to investments from GV, the venture capital arm of Alphabet Inc., which is the parent company of Google. The goal was mostly to help with coronavirus-related efforts, allowing Ready to add services like in-home testing, while also ensuring people get care for unrelated conditions amid exposure fears and hospital capacity concerns.
And now, Ready is also targeting the mental health of some patients involved in its community care program, with Medicaid, Medicare and large provider organizations like hospital systems being their main clients. The services are currently being offering in three markets, with more to come as the company hammers out contracts, a sometimes long and arduous task.
The new services are especially important in light of the pandemic. With the surge of COVID-19 cases nationwide also came mental health struggles.
“Mental health issues were pretty much a crisis in the country prior to the pandemic, and now I don’t think anyone’s untouched by this situation we’re in,” Marci said. “So it seemed like a good time to finally put this on the front burner.”
Ready’s mental health component works like this: Within their community care program, ‘responders’ go to a patient’s home for a physical health check-up. During that visit, the responder, who is either a paramedic or EMT, will also conduct behavioral health screenings for conditions like depression and substance abuse.
“An example would be someone who’s got a headache … for the third time, or gastrointestinal issues,” Marci said. “They keep getting the same test, and it won’t go away. If you peel back the onion, you realize they’re depressed or anxious. And why are they depressed and anxious? Because they can’t pay their light bill. We’re really trying to take an approach that can address all three of those.”
From there, Ready’s team would connect the patient with resources to pay that light bill, in addition to giving the person the option to be connected to a mental health clinician in their home via telehealth. Using a computer or electronic device, the clinician would make an introduction, then step out of the room for the duration of the visit.
So far, Ready has contracts with Medicaid health plans and large provider groups to do this work, which is largely paid for on a per-member-per-month basis. The company has hired full-time and part-time staff licensed in specific markets –- but is also open to contracts with behavioral health organizations to help meet high demand.
“With the pandemic surging, we’re running into capacity issues right,” Marci said. “We are talking to potential partners who can white label their clinicians, and then we can use them. That’s something we’re exploring.”
There also may come a time when responders sent into homes will be peer-support specialists, who won’t take vital signs but will instead focus solely on mental health services.
“When you’ve done a full assessment, saying look this is more of a social health, mental health issue, that’s going to be a different team,” Marci said. “[That’s] the beauty of the care model, and as we as we grow and get more sophisticated about skills-based routing, how do you send the right person to the home that you need? We know that’s something we actually are anticipating.”
Ready is also exploring new technology opportunities that have opened up because of the support from Google-tied investors.
“We are in the process of rolling out a whole new tech stack that’s vertically integrated: it’s cloud-based, HIPAA-compliant and secure,” Marci said. “It also inspires us to develop not just a platform for ordering Ready services, but also apps that would include mental health and behavioral health applications. Having the ability to connect with patients through apps and other technology between visits, that’s where digital health really excels.”
Written by Lisa Gillespie