A startup whose app connects people with mental health clinicians for counseling through text messages and video chats raised $50 million and forged ties with the biggest U.S. health insurer, a sign that the market for delivering psychotherapy remotely is growing.
The company, Talkspace, said Wednesday that the investment round led by Revolution Growth brings the total amount it has raised so far to about $110 million. Its deal with Optum, a unit of UnitedHealth Group Inc., will make the Talkspace app available to about 2 million Optum customers.
About 57 million adults had mental health or substance-use conditions in 2017, and about 70% of them received no treatment, according to federal estimates.
“It’s what we would call a failed market,” said Oren Frank, chief executive officer of Talkspace, who co-founded the company with his wife, Roni Frank, in 2012.
Based in New York, Talkspace connects people with a network of 5,000 licensed therapists. For a fee starting at $49 a week, users can leave text, voice and video messages with counselors who respond five days a week. Customers can pay more for live video chats.
Talkspace is one of several companies selling low-cost, high-tech alternatives to regular in-person therapy visits. Competitors include apps like Ginger and BetterHelp. Larger telehealth companies such as MDLive and Teladoc deliver remote mental health services as well as consultations for physical illnesses.
Investment in digital health companies grew to $8.1 billion in the U.S. in 2018, according to data compiled by investment firm Rock Health. Health care providers “are trying to extend beyond their physical geographic reach to one that’s more a virtual geographic reach,” said Gurpreet Singh, who specializes in health care at consultant PwC.
About three-quarters of doctors have recommended a digital app to patients, and a similar number of patients said they received in-person care that could have been delivered remotely, according to PwC research. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has cleared prescription mobile apps intended to help people in treatment for substance-use disorders stick to their programs.