This article is sponsored by Heading Health. In this Voices Interview, Behavioral Health Business sits down with Simon Tankel – Founder & Chief Executive Officer, Heading Health, to talk about pioneering in-network ketamine treatments alongside medication management and therapy for better patient solutions. He explains how Heading’s approach differs from traditional providers and provides insight into the strategies it has implemented to ensure seamless coordination and communication among your team of providers. He also addresses the key concerns around costs associated with the in-network model, as well as the organization’s long-term vision for payer collaboration.
Behavioral Health Business: What career experiences do you most draw from in your role today?
Simon Tankel: Back when I was as a power station developer, I gained insight into the significance of regulatory and financial support to bring visions to life.
Building infrastructure becomes an uphill battle without stringent regulations and the necessary funds. If we were to equate mental health to a public utility, it would need similar backing, which highlights one of the remarkable aspects of America — its well-funded health care payers — which is often overlooked. The abundance of resources within the American health care system allows the nation to undertake ambitious projects, often beyond the financial reach of other countries.
On the regulatory front, America boasts a proficient and dynamic regulator. I’ve had experiences in markets like electrical utilities in places like Israel or Burma, the latter of which had significant challenges, American regulatory bodies, whether it’s the FDA, NIH or state medical boards, may not be flawless, but they showcase a commendable level of sophistication in their regulatory approach and market-driving strategies.
With my previous company in the cannabis sector in Germany, we operated as a fully insurance-covered cannabis supplier, ensuring zero costs for patients. The takeaway was clear — for innovative treatments to scale, pricing plays a pivotal role in determining the adoption rate. Similar to the early days of the iPhone, the initial high cost limited its reach. To promote wider adoption of effective new treatments, pricing strategies are essential.
These experiences have inspired me to establish a company focused on affordability and efficacy. I chose America for this endeavor because ensuring accessibility, especially when considering the financial constraints many face, is paramount. A lot of people live paycheck to paycheck, and they are often the ones in dire need of care. All of my work leading up to this has informed my understanding of market success factors, and that’s the foundation upon which Heading is built.
How does Heading’s choice to offer interventional services alongside medication management and therapy differ from traditional providers, and how do you ensure the quality and efficacy across all of those services in a hybrid, virtual and in-person practice?
Managing all of our service lines in tandem is a multifaceted operation. However, it’s a requisite to ensure patients receive timely and appropriate care tailored to their needs. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to mental health, so providing a range of treatments, whether in combination or succession, enhances the probability of swifter patient recovery. It also helps maintain their well-being, particularly with respect to lingering ailments like depression.
Orchestrating numerous service lines, both virtual and at physical locations, is a daily challenge in logistics that surpasses the complexity of single-channel digital tools. Yet, this approach enables us to cater to patients with heightened severity, ensuring a superior care quality. It’s an ambitious, demanding venture, especially when magnified in scale, and it requires constant analytics, logistical prowess, and financial acumen to execute it seamlessly.
What insights can you provide regarding how ketamine and Spravato® treatments work alongside traditional service lines for patients, and how do you envision it will pave the way for future psychedelic therapies once approved?
A considerable body of research indicates that ketamine treatments, when combined with therapy, tend to be notably more effective than conventional antidepressants. Many of our patients commence their journey at Heading with ketamine or Spravato® specifically through a referral or because their other treatments have failed. thers begin at Heading with psychotherapy or medication management, and might seamlessly transitioning between these treatments as needed. This natural integration is facilitated by our skilled provider team, adhering to our care model. Our approach aligns with the impending introduction of psychedelics., We understand the patient population who needs these treatments, infrastructure, insurance contracts, and a care model that values urgent outcomes.
We can pinpoint the appropriate treatments for each patient, have immediate access to their insurance details and utilize our messaging platform to expedite the rollout of these treatments. Essentially, it’s a streamlined process. Access to skilled therapists to bolster this care sets us apart, offering an advantage few others can replicate.
What strategies have you implemented to ensure seamless coordination and communication among your team of providers, especially when offering a combination of services that include ketamine treatment alongside medication management and therapy?
Our approach hinges primarily on education. While our tech stack incorporates it, our environment is structured to encourage, reward and guide our providers to prioritize urgent outcomes. We don’t place any single treatment on a pedestal. Instead, we revere the ultimate goal of achieving positive results, a principle deeply embedded in our care model. While some companies may emphasize certain treatments due to financial incentives or limited offerings, our emphasis lies in providing a wide array of tools without any undue bias. Our focus remains on thoroughly communicating evidence-based findings, risk factors, and the synergistic effects of combining treatments, along with other relevant psychosocial data. All of this is centered on the goal of ensuring optimal patient outcomes.
Our aim is to shift the behavior of mental health providers. Many are not realizing the full potential of their treatment outcomes, primarily due to limited decision-making options and restricted access to comprehensive care. By offering an array of treatments under one roof—and making them substantially more affordable than many alternatives, we enable providers to align their outcomes with advancing scientific knowledge. There have been remarkable advancements in mental health science, yet there seems to be a gap in translating this knowledge into practical care delivery.
How do you address concerns around the cost and coverage of innovative treatments like ketamine with your in-network model, and what are your long-term goals for collaborating with payers to optimize accessibility for patients?
Securing payer coverage has always been a pressing issue. The approval of Spravato marked a significant milestone, complemented by ongoing approvals in the TMS domain. This has been pivotal as it allows us to provide our treatments at an affordable rate to those most in need.
As we look ahead and navigate our relationship with payers, our primary goal is to cater to the right patients — those who desperately require our care, often directly from hospital settings. It’s crucial not only to serve these high-risk patients, but also to consistently provide payers with outcomes data showcasing the efficacy of our treatments. After all, these treatments don’t come cheap for the payers. We must highlight that we are delivering tangible results, especially for those patients who stand to benefit the most and where payers can realize the most substantial cost savings.
Discuss your company’s treatment-agnostic approach and how it helps providers, payers and patients.
We offer a diverse range of treatments, including therapy, psychiatry, Ketamine, TMS and Spravato, to address mood and anxiety symptoms. Many of our patients undergo multiple treatments either simultaneously or in sequence. This multifaceted approach benefits our providers, allowing them to achieve better results for their patients more rapidly. It’s a collaborative, team-based approach. Patients benefit by experiencing quicker recovery, and payers benefit as well. We can reduce hospitalizations for their covered patients, especially those at the highest risk, by delivering effective outcomes.
In a couple of words, finish this sentence: “In 2023, the behavioral health industry has been defined by…?”
…return on investment.
We’re in an era of high interest rates, which intensifies pressure on payers. Previously, they felt the push mainly to expand access, but now there’s heightened scrutiny around enhancing access for the right individuals. Employers feel the strain, and so do companies. Everyone’s feeling the pinch, and if you’re not adding value or providing a return on investment, you’re at risk of being sidelined in this ecosystem. The time for mere experimentation has passed.
Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity
Learn how Heading is improving access and outcomes through innovative treatment planning and in-network care for patients in Texas with higher acuity, and hard-to-treat depression, PTSD, anxiety, and more at headinghealth.com
The Voices Series is a sponsored content program featuring leading executives discussing trends, topics and more shaping their industry in a question-and-answer format. For more information on Voices, please contact [email protected].