Tell us who you are and your relationship to telemedicine?
I am Alfonso Jiménez, Co-founder of Airapy, a new marketplace for booking therapy. The original business model was that while our directory and booking were all online, therapy itself took place in person– either in a private office or via “walk and talk” therapy, meaning therapy that takes place outside or in public spaces (with the patient’s consent, of course). We were about to launch in the US when the pandemic hit, so we quickly had to integrate virtual sessions directly into the platform. Now, we book therapy anywhere– including online! Our business model has changed, but our vision to make therapy more accessible is the same.
Why did you decide to support the #YoPacienteDigital project? How will this study impact your company?
We’re always keen to support this kind of initiative. There’s a lot of work to do and projects such as #YoPacienteDigital will improve the deployment and adoption of telemedicine in the healthcare system. We’ve observed a growing trend towards this, especially since the pandemic started. However there is still a long road ahead. The more data we have, the better we can understand what works and what doesn’t.
How are you using telemedicine in your company?
Airapy developed a custom HIPAA-compliant videochat feature based on WebRTC technology, enabling peer-to-peer connection via the browser. This makes it simple to use because the participants don’t have to install or download any software. It works great on any device (mobile or desktop) using a modern browser.
Technology also allows us to help therapists to improve their practice. For example, in the future we could provide useful insights by extracting information from progress notes using machine learning techniques like NLP (Natural Language Processing).
What is a digital patient for you?
Right now, everyone is a digital patient! Before the pandemic, patients were cautious of the technology and old habits have been forced to change rapidly. Now that millions of people have gotten used to conducting more personal business online, more often, we think that the majority of the population will be comfortable, if not enthusiastic, about virtual healthcare in the future.
How important is mental health support and how can technology help?
Mental health is becoming a world wide crisis, and the pandemic has exacerbated the situation. Millions of people will have lifelong trauma and anxiety from the quarantine and ensuing isolation. In the US, the issue has been most serious in rural areas where there is less access to providers and technology is going to be the primary tool for reducing these inequities. Mental health usually requires long-term treatment plans, and virtual care will make it easier to maintain regular contact with therapists and psychiatrists. Lastly, when therapy is online, patients can see any therapist licensed to provide care in their state regardless of physical location, greatly expanding the potential pool of providers.
Can you also help patients with in-person treatment as well as virtual?
Yes, the Airapy marketplace is set up so that therapists can list multiple physical meeting locations, both private offices and public locations. We are unsure of when patients and therapists will begin to meet publicly due to the pandemic, but we believe everyone will be more interested in meeting outside than ever before. This is a great opportunity to introduce the world to “walk and talk” therapy!
What are the benefits of transferring the consultation outside of the professional’s office?
The patients who participated in our pilot program in 2019 loved the flexibility of not having to be in an office. One patient was able to bring her dog because they met in the park and another preferred a coffee shop and felt that it made them more comfortable and less self-conscious. For some, not being limited to one location made it easier to find a mutually accessible location. For those who actually walk around during therapy, there are mental health benefits to exercise. Some therapists who treat adolescents use walking as a tool to help their patients relax. For the therapist, they have the additional benefit of saving money on office space and utilities.
What differentiates Airapy from other mental healthcare startups like Talkspace and Better Help?
Airapy‘s vision is to make therapy easier for both patients and therapists. In the US, we have thousands of licensed therapists who are not in private practice because they are hesitant to start a business. Our goal is to make it simple for therapists to list their services on Airapy and start helping patients. We intend to incorporate more private practice tools into the platform like progress notes, appointment reminders, and patient consent forms. This makes Airapy a “one-stop shop” for starting a private practice.