Direct-to-consumer digital health company Hims & Hers is expanding into online mental health services, starting with free support groups.
The company's group sessions, available free of charge during the COVID-19 pandemic, will be led by a licensed mental health professional and will begin next week, the company announced Tuesday.
Hims & Hers also plans to launch two other mental health treatment options through its platform—individual online therapy and psychiatric evaluations.
San Francisco-based Hims launched in November 2017 as a men's wellness brand offering skincare, hair-loss products and erectile dysfunction medication. It has since added a women’s health business, called Hers, focused on birth control, sexual health, and skin and hair care products.
The company now provides access to medical care and treatment for more than a dozen conditions with more than 50 products. It has scaled its business quickly with 1 million medical visits completed through its telehealth platforms in 2019.
Hims & Hers also fast-tracked an expansion of its telehealth services to offer access to primary care. The company rolled out the service in two weeks, first launching in five states "where the burden on the hospital system and brick-and-mortar provider practices has been particularly severe," according to the company.
Company founder and CEO Andrew Dudum told FierceHealthcare mental health care was always on the startup's road map.
"The reason we started the business was to build a brand and a company that could help people, from a medical standpoint, with health issues that have an association with shame or stigma. Hims & Hers is positioned around helping people to address those stigmatized topics. Nothing is more stigmatized than depression and anxiety and mental health," Dudum said.
The company saw a need to accelerate mental health options amid the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent social distancing measures and to make virtual support available that is easy to access from home.
"It prohibitively difficult to get access to mental health professionals. It's expensive, it's often not reimbursed by insurance and there are so many specialties it can be difficult to find a match with a mental health professional that meets your needs," Dudum said.
The company is beginning its foray into mental health with anonymized group therapy and guided meditation sessions.
For the free support groups, each session will be led by a licensed therapist or mental health professional and based around specific topics. All questions and conversations will be shared through varying levels of anonymity—chat or audio—depending on the course and the comfort of the attendees, according to the company.
“Being able to connect with others who are going through similar circumstances while also benefitting from a trained professional who can facilitate the conversation and provide education, can have a real impact on someone’s mental wellness,” said Pat Carroll, M.D., chief medical officer at Hims & Hers. “In these sessions, participants will learn personal strategies for managing specific problems, feel a sense of community, and gain access to tools that can benefit their mental health.”
Currently, the company has about a dozen mental health practitioners that it’s working with through Regroup Telehealth, one of the largest providers of telepsychiatry services in the country.
Hims & Hers plans to roll out other options for personalized care including comprehensive psychiatric evaluations in which psychiatrists will be able to prescribe pharmaceutical medications when appropriate.
The company won't be prescribing any medication for what could be considered controlled substances. The great majority of medications will be seratonin reuptake inhibitors and serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, classes of medication commonly used to treat anxiety and depression, according to the company.
"I think of good healthcare as care that opens up the doors to as many people as possible. The benefits of telehealth include affordability, flexibility, and convenience with medication shipped to your door. And with the current situation, it helps to keep the health system available to those who need critical care," Dudum said.
Investors are showing a strong interest in digital behavioral health companies. Startups in the space raised a total of $416 million through the third quarter of 2019. That's 8% of the overall $5.5 billion that digital health companies raised in venture capital funding in 2019, Rock Health said in its third-quarter 2019 report.
Hims & Hers will now be competing with digital behavioral health startups like Ginger, Talkspace and SilverCloud Health, among others.
Major telehealth companies such as Teladoc and Doctor on Demand also offer virtual visits with licensed psychiatrists and psychologists.
"From a competitive standpoint, we compete with a lot of different players," Dudum said. "Our ambition is to be that place where consumers can come and get health and wellness products and services. We will expand that offering as much as we can to help more people as we continue to grow."
The company's strong growth in virtual visits points to the potential for telehealth to open up access to healthcare, especially for younger consumers, Dudum said.
"This idea of scheduling appointments, waiting in a waiting room and taking time off work to see a doctor in the traditional healthcare setting is very different for individuals who were born and bred with picking up a phone and clicking a button to get access to what they want," he said.
"What we've already seen with Hims & Hers is that we're tapping into a group of people who are currently not interacting with the healthcare system. We're encouraging those people to have relationships with a primary care physician and we continue to increase the percentage of the population that are seeing physicians and getting oversight by medical professionals," he said.