With 2009 startup Breakthrough, CEO Mark Goldenson looks to tear down walls keeping those from the treatment they need––and he’s just received a substantial leg up.
Series A financing brought $5 million to Breakthrough today, with Social+Capital Partnership, First Round Capital and Great Oaks Venture Capital contributing. Breakthrough looks to create a “telemental health” platform where users may seek treatment online, ensuring patient comfort and privacy, things Goldenson saw the industry needed.
“I’ve seen what mental illness does to people that I care about,” he says. His passion for Internet entrepreneurship, psychology and neuroscience converged in Breakthrough.
“Do I want to wake up in the morning to try and get excited about selling more airline tickets?” Goldenson says. “The answer is not really. I would really rather wake up and feel that I was creating something that would make a difference. I know how cliché that sounds, but its a reality.”
Cliché, maybe. But naïve? Nope. Goldenson thinks companies don’t need to give up doing good to make a profit. “I believe there is now an increasing opportunity to create meaningful value in people’s lives and create a business that is strong.”
To build that business, Goldenson’s company must address and solve patients’ problems. He says four major concerns keep many from seeking treatment for illnesses: cost, access, fit and stigma. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the average American who received mental healthcare in 2006 spent upwards of $1,500 on services––while others couldn’t get treatment at all. Goldenson says three out of four rural towns have no psychiatrist.
After finding a provider within reach and affordability, there is still the question of personality fit. Half of those who start therapy drop out after a few sessions, Goldenson says. But for some, the concern above all has to do with the way mental health is perceived in this country. While droves of Americans struggle with mental illness, “more people admit to having rectal cancer,” Goldenson says.
“I saw how the Internet had the potential to help on all four of these barriers,” he says. “[There’s] a documented un-appeal to sitting in a waiting room and feeling like you’re broken.”
In Breakthrough, patients find an easy, private way to schedule, then go to consultations and appointments with licensed care providers online via webcam. According to research, telemental health methods reduce hospitalization time and psychiatric admission; and in 2007, the APA found that “psychiatric consultation and follow-up delivered by telepsychiatry produced clinical outcomes that were equivalent to those achieved when the service was provided face to face.”
In some cases, however, online mental healthcare cannot replace in-person treatment. Breakthrough serves a community of users with mild to moderate conditions, and should not be treated like a crisis line. Though telemental treatment has been proven to be just as good (if not better, under certain circumstances) as in-person care, it’s not perfect.
“There are fewer cues [with] online care; you have to be more attentive to catch subtle cues like someone who may be fidgeting,” says Goldenson. “Some can be caught by being more attentive, more aware of the medium.”
“But there is a counteracting confidence effect that, if you’re talking with someone who’s more comfortable…anecdotally and in a little research, there’s evidence that people open up more,” Goldenson says. “You need that kind of visibility to see what’s happening in someone’s head, to understand how to help them.”
In the meantime, last week’s investments will go toward product development and engineering, sales and marketing. Previously concerned primarily with finding insurance companies to collaborate with, Goldenson’s now faced with getting the word out. Breakthrough covers two million people insured by Blue Shield of California and Magellan; it’s time those customers knew it.
“Our last major challenge is awareness, helping people know that this is now available and that it works,” Goldenson says.