After months of testing, WeCounsel-an online network that will allow patients to connect with mental health professionals via videoconference-is now available to the public.
“We’ve been conducting live sessions with kids and adults,” Riley Draper, WeCounsel chief communications officer, said. “What we’ve been doing is gathering their feedback and collecting what they think is most important. We’ve gotten tons of feedback.”
WeCounsel is HIPAA-compliant and uses the cloud to connect mental health providers with patients and colleagues online, which can make seeking treatment more convenient, Draper said.
WeCounsel allows anyone who wants mental health treatment to connect with a professional online.
And doctors and counselors can track notes from previous sessions and communicate with other mental health professionals using WeCounsel.
Draper and two other recent college graduates, Josh Goldberg and Harrison Tyner, formed their business in the summer of 2011, while they were still in school.
Now, they are all working full time on their venture.
Leading up to today’s public launch, the WeCounsel team did pilot testing with a nationwide health care enterprise and private practice providers across the country.
They have also added three new employees-two developers and a customer support representative-and moved into an office at the Business Development Center.
Mental health professionals anywhere around the country can register with WeCounsel.
For now, people seeking mental health help via WeCounsel need to have a referral to use the system; but after the soft launch, anyone will be able to use WeCounsel to sign on, browse for and communicate with mental health providers, Draper said.
Mental health providers pay WeCounsel a monthly subscription to use the service.
Patients can use the platform for free. But patients pay the mental health professional, as they typically would for treatment, through the WeCounsel billing system.
Americans have more trouble accessing mental health care than other types of medical services, according to The Washington Post and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In 2010, the country had 156,300 mental health counselors.
And 89.3 million people live in places that have been federally designated as having shortages of mental health professionals. Comparatively, 55.3 million Americans live in areas that are federally designated as having a shortage of primary care professionals.
About 3.4 percent of people reported serious psychological distress in the past 30 days, according to 2011 statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Fifteen million Americans seek therapy for the first time each year, Draper said, according to Nooga.com archives.
One in five Americans experienced some sort of mental illness in 2010, according to ABC News.
But a 2009 study from the American Psychological Association found that only 4 percent of Americans used therapy to combat stress.
Draper said that video connection with therapists has the potential to make patients more comfortable because they can talk from a familiar place, like home, according to Nooga.com archives. And it may also prevent people from missing appointments because patients won’t have to fight traffic or take time out of work to drive to a therapy appointment.
From people who are injured and find it difficult to travel to mothers to busy businesspeople, patients might find it more convenient to connect via video, he said.
The road to launch
Leading up to the official launch, the team also completed The Company Lab’s 100-day business accelerator; secured additional funding from Mozilla Ignite; and sealed a development deal with Blacksnow Media, according to Nooga.com archives.
After pitching at Gig Tank’s Demo Day in August, WeCounsel secured $600,000 in funding from local company Ultra Group Healthcare. Ultra Group facilitates outpatient care in 40 rural hospitals across eight states.
Teknovation.biz, a technology news publication aimed at entrepreneurs, also recently featured WeCounsel.
During the next couple of months, the team is going to start ramping up marketing efforts to spread the word of WeCounsel.
“It’s very exciting for us,” Draper said. “A year ago, we were over at CO.LAB figuring out how the heck we were going to make this thing happen. I feel really good about where the product is. It takes a long time to get to the place where you’re comfortable enough to put your product out to the whole country.”