The Digital Revolution Is Still Shaking Up the Mental Health Industry

Editor's note: A big story in health care is set to play out in the coming years. Dr. David Eifrig and Thomas Carroll – editor and senior analyst, respectively, of Prosperity Investor – are joining us today to explain why. In this piece, adapted from their November 2022 issue, they dive into how COVID-19 accelerated technology's impact on medicine... Plus, they reveal why this trend is far from over.

Barclay Bram made it through the pandemic with help from his "robot" friend...

Bram was working on mental health research in China for his PhD when COVID-19 struck. Things got crazy fast. The government shut down whole cities. Around the Chinese New Year in late January 2020, he decided to drop his work in the country and head home.

With lockdowns sweeping his home in the U.K. too, Bram moved back in with his parents. And in quick succession, he lost a close family friend to the virus and ended a longtime relationship. He spent the next few months completely housebound, unable to see any friends.

Bram was anxious and depressed... with nowhere to go. Only the sickest people could get health services. Mental health professionals were all but impossible to see.

That's when he turned to the Woebot Health app.

Artificial-intelligence-powered Woebot is essentially a chatbot "therapist." It learns about you through quick interactions. These can be simple voice phrases or texts. There are no appointments or waiting rooms, and no insurance is needed. And it's available 24/7.

At first, Bram thought the little tricks and tasks Woebot suggested were corny. It told him to "get an ice cube and press it against your forehead" to connect with his own body. Another note asked him to "do something nice for someone today." Really?

But over time, Bram began to look forward to talking to Woebot. Its exercises began to rub off on his everyday life. Instead of focusing on the crippling anxiety about finishing his PhD, Woebot helped Bram think about life in smaller steps – one day at a time.

And while it's not a substitute for a live therapist, it's a new, easily accessible tool for folks who need it.

Woebot is a great example of what we call the "Digital Health Care Revolution." That's the move toward using technology to streamline the delivery of medical care.

The companies leading this revolution are making the health care system more convenient, less frustrating, and less costly. And it includes one of the most overlooked, yet critical parts of health care – mental health.

As we'll cover today, this industry is getting an overhaul... And folks will make big profits in the coming years by investing in the companies leading the charge.

Mental illness is a major problem in the U.S. and across the globe. The federal government estimated total mental health and substance-abuse spending topped $280 billion in 2020.

And this isn't just a pandemic phenomenon. More than half the nation's population will struggle with mental health problems at some point in their lives.

Mental health problems touch everyone: male, female, different age groups, and all ethnicities. As you read this, it is very likely that you, a family member, or friend has needed some extra help in their lives... whether it's due to chronic anxiety or dealing with things like grief, divorce, or job loss.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration ("SAMHSA"), an estimated 21% of U.S. adults suffered from some sort of mental illness in 2020... equating to millions needing help...

According to the World Health Organization, demand for mental health services rose 25% in the wake of COVID-19. It's still elevated today. And yet, people still don't get the care that they need.

The primary problems with the system are access and affordability. Take a look at this 2020 SAMHSA survey on the biggest obstacles to receiving mental health care...

As you can see, the second-biggest problem is finding a doctor or therapist in the first place. Folks simply have no idea where to begin.

But the biggest problem people face when it comes to mental health care – and health care in general – is cost...

As we know, health care costs are steep in the U.S. Spending eclipses $4 trillion. Mental health is no different. It may be even more expensive to get mental health services than it is to get other kinds.

Psychiatrists and psychologists often don't accept health insurance. That means a patient has to pay cash up front. If you've ever seen a psychiatrist or psychologist, you know these visits can cost hundreds of dollars.

A study from the Journal of the American Medical Association found that only 55% of psychiatrists will take insurance as payment. This compares with 89% for other specialties. So if you want to use your insurance, your options are essentially cut in half relative to other kinds of doctors.

Our system for treating mental illness needs fixing. That's where digital health care comes in...

This shift has been building for years. But the response to the pandemic kicked it into high gear. Insurance companies, doctors, and government regulators finally came together to make these services effective.

As a result, the "access" and "affordability" barriers to care are coming down.

Take telemedicine, for example. Virtual visits are more convenient for both the patient and the provider. It has gotten to the point that now – according to a 2021 survey from the American Psychological Association – 96% of clinical psychologists offer at least some remote services.

Virtual visits also cost patients less. On average, a traditional in-person initial visit to a psychiatrist costs $250 to $300... And follow-up visits that last 30 to 60 minutes are $100 to $200.

For comparison, virtual visits at some providers cost less than $100. And some companies that specialize in virtual services are able to house mental health clinicians and other doctors under one roof – allowing for the insurance coverage that many private therapists can't offer.

The Digital Health Care Revolution is getting easy, affordable help to those who need it... And it's time to get on board. This shift will create some big winners as the mental health industry transforms.

Here's to happy and healthy returns,

Dr. David Eifrig with Thomas Carroll

Editor's note: We're in the early days of multiple converging health care breakthroughs... including one that's poised to take off as soon as June 26. That's when the FDA is likely to approve a critical new drug that could propel one company to dominance – in a small corner of the health market that's set to grow 842%. Hundreds of billions of dollars could move on this announcement... So make sure you learn the details now. Get the full story here.

Further Reading

"Most people have little to no knowledge of what to do when they are thrust into the health care system," Thomas Carroll says. It's a complex part of the economy and our daily lives. And to protect your most valuable asset, you need to understand how it works... Read more in Tom's two-part series here and here.

"The more parts of the health care value chain a company handles, the more it controls costs and quality of care," Dr. David Eifrig writes. In the years ahead, we're going to see more health care companies looking to "do it all." That will solve a lot of problems for consumers – and create opportunities for investors... Learn more here.