The concept of telehealth – connecting with a doctor for an online video consultation – is making its way into the mainstream, if slowly but surely: a colleague’s friend was this week surprised to find out the doctor’s certificate they had been handed by an employee who had called in sick the day before was not, in fact, a fake but one obtained through an online GP service.
While time-pressed city folk make up a part of their customer bases, a number of telehealth services have focused on filling the gap and connecting Australians living in regional, rural, and remote areas to medical professionals.
One such service is Lysn, founded by Dr Jonathan King and a friend in 2016 before King took sole ownership of the business last July.
Looking to address both the stigma around mental health and the dearth of mental health professionals outside the major cities, Lysn is a telehealth service connecting patients to vetted psychologists.
The vision for the platform first came to King two and a half years ago, though the original grand vision was for an online allied health hospital aimed at supporting GPs in regional and rural Australia, to give them a range of services to help them better serve their communities.
“Once entering the startup journey, I realised that one area, psychology and mental health, needed a strong focus as it’s such a huge problem that needs urgent attention,” King said.
The question around mental health in regional, rural, and remote Australia is indeed an important one.
While the 2007 Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing found that 8.3 percent of people aged 16-85 years old who lived outside major cities had high of very high levels of psychological distress, this percentage was “not significantly different” to those living in major cities – however, that’s where access to specialised mental health care comes in.
Statistics cited by the National Rural Health Alliance show the number of psychiatrists, mental health nurses, and psychologists in rural and regional areas as a percentage of those in major cities in 2014 was, respectively, 34 percent, 82 percent, and 55 percent; in remote areas, this percentages decreased even further to 18 percent, 58 percent, and 32 percent, respectively.
Meanwhile, the rate of suicide in rural areas is around 40 percent higher than in major cities, and almost double the rate in major cities in remote and very remote Australia.
Looking at the stats, King realised Lysn was right to double down on mental health.
“Since putting so much focus on psychology and mental health, we have decided to postpone future developments into other areas to enable us to better improve services and access to mental healthcare in Australia,” he said.
Still, in beginning to develop a healthtech startup, King bit off quite a sizeable challenge.
“We always talk about building an MVP, but in health, with so much legislation and areas to cover, what is considered a minimum viable product seems to be much more than many other startups,” he said.
To start with, one of the biggest challenges before hiring a development team was King’s tech knowledge, or lack thereof.
“While I do have many clinical insights, I honestly never imagined the complexity of designing technology,” he admitted. “It has been a challenging but exciting process which has allowed me to learn new skills and thought processes.”
With this in mind, Lysn is focused on iterating continually based on feedback from users and psychologists, a factor King said is extremely important as not only are both the users and psychologists customers, but Lysn also needs to keep improving on the current standard of practice.
In building the two sides of the platform, Lysn began by cold calling and emailing psychologists found on other directories, with King saying they sought out those with the best ratings. Once they complete a sign up process, psychologists are vetted before joining the platform.
“We look for psychologists who have a passion to best help their clients by offering another form of therapy that may best suit their clients, as well as ones who understand innovation and the future potential of online psychology,” he said.
These psychologists, in turn, put out word that they are available through Lysn, while the startup has also been marketing itself in print media and online, and via GPs.
A patient coming on board must first complete a questionnaire that profiles their needs to then match them with the right psychologist. From there, they can book a time that suits, and complete the payment.
“[The matching algorithm] is based on matching the psychologists areas of expertise to the issues the client is facing as we hope to improve therapeutic alliance,” King explained.
“With Lysn, no longer are clients being referred or matched with a psychologist who has been found on Google or other health directories, and usually with no consideration of clients needs, other than availability of appointments.”
Consultations are available in either 25 minute or 50 minute blocks, with 50 minutes costing $139 and 25 minutes set at $69.50, with a booking fee of $4.95. As of last November, depending on their location, some patients in rural Australia are eligible for a Medicare rebate for Telepsychology via their mental health care plan with their GP.
While King admitted that Lysn is “not short of competitors”, with new online therapy startups popping up, he believes the fact that Lysn has the largest selection of psychologists and fixed pricing works in its favour.
“Many other competitors have variable pricing which can range from $100 to $250 online. With Lysn, our services are not only tailored to your needs, but you know exactly how much you are going to pay upfront and oftentimes this is a cheaper alternative than seeing a psychologist face to face or through other competitors,” he said.
“We’re very proud of being able to provide our patients with expert services from some of Australia’s best psychologists, from the comfort of your own home, just through the click of a button.”
King hopes to raise funding for Lysn later this year; in the meantime, the team is working to expand into phone and text-based therapy services and build an app. It is also working on potential partnerships with regional communities and schools to provide further access and education around mental health.
Image: Dr Jonathan King. Source: Supplied.