Barnaby Perks, CEO of PsychologyOnline
PsychologyOnline was founded by two Chartered Psychologists who worked for the UK National Health Service. Recognising the scarcity of available psychological support, they developed PsychologyOnline to provide a top quality psychological therapy service that is easily accessible to all. Following a successful clinical trial (published in The Lancet in 2009) they sought investment to develop PsychologyOnline to deliver services to NHS and private patients.
1. What was the inspiration for the business? The need for PsychologyOnline was identified by two NHS psychologists, Sue Wright and Nadine Field, who were appalled by the length of time patients had to wait to receive Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Once diagnosed, patients need therapy as soon as possible but often patients were waiting at least six months or longer for therapy.
They had the idea that by using the Internet therapists would not have to travel and could treat more patients. In addition, patients would be able to access therapy from home at a time of their choosing, making the experience less stressful as well as more convenient. Subsequent clinical trial data showed that live CBT delivered via the Internet was not only effective but also achieved good outcomes. It required 40 per cent fewer sessions than traditional face-to-face therapy, as patients were more relaxed and less embarrassed, leading them to disclose sensitive personal information more readily.
2. How has it been received by professionals in the segment? Initially with a degree of scepticism, as professionals often think that face-to-face contact is essential for effective therapy. However when they see the clinical data and patient feedback they appreciate how online therapy promotes a better user experience leading to better outcomes. Most of our affiliate therapists also work for the NHS and they enjoy delivering therapy online as it is flexible, enabling them to balance work with other commitments.
Our rigorous clinical governance and therapist supervision is core to the service and this ensures good outcomes and generates confidence within the professional therapy community.
3. What is the traction in terms of customer take-up? Following a successful 100 patient trial we were commissioned by five Clinical Commissioning Groups in Surrey to deliver therapy on prescription. Starting in April 2013, the three year contract covers 140 GP surgeries serving a population of one million people. Referrals are increasing steadily as GPs learn about our service and see the excellent clinical results – we achieve 60 per cent to 70 per cent recovery (vs national average of 45-50 per cent) at an average of six sessions (vs national average of 10-12).
These excellent results have meant that PsychologyOnline has been noticed by commissioners across the country. We have a number of new projects that are about to start in the next few months. In October we launched a private pay service (www.thinkwell.co.uk) accessed via self-referral this is going well and we are planning wider promotion of this service in 2014.
4. From how wide geographically and demographically do you draw clientele?Our NHS patients are all in the UK but our private pay patients come from all over the world. Our therapists are all UK accredited but several live overseas, giving us greater flexibility with timing of appointments. The key feature of users is that they are comfortable using the Internet. This means that although most are in the 25-50 age bracket we have several older users, including some in their mid-eighties.
5. Why do you think people prefer the online service to the face2face alternative?Convenience – they don’t need to take time off work. The most popular time is weekday evenings between 18:00 and 22:00. Most attend from home but a significant and increasing number are using mobile devices to access therapy while on the move.Confidential – Never seeing or hearing your therapist helps to minimise any embarrassment and enables people to open up more readily. Also no one else needs to know.
6. How is the business funded?We raised £476k from Cambridge Angels in July 2011 and raised a further £1.15m in 2013. In the second round, Cambridge Angels were joined by investors from Harvard Business School Alumni Angels of London, Clearly Social Angels and Imperial Innovations. Increasingly we are funding ourselves through sales as our contracts grow.
7. Do you anticipate needing further funding?At this stage we have no plans to go out for further funding. However this may change if we identify new projects that require further investment.
8. Is the venture likely to expand globally?Yes, but our current focus is on the UK. Clinical competence is the key to our success. While the NHS is one of the most difficult markets to crack it also represents a tremendous marketing opportunity when exporting. For this reason our short term focus is on delivering our robust NHS offering.
9. Are you coping adequately in terms of recruiting the right calibre staff?We have an excellent team but it hasn’t been easy to assemble. We’ve focussed on attracting only the best people as well as getting a good mix of experience and youth.
10. Do you see your services/technology progressing in future and if so, in what ways?Although our focus is primary care mental health there is a big opportunity to support people with long-term medical conditions, where there are extremely high levels of associated depression and anxiety. An effective therapy service that can be accessed conveniently with minimal fuss would offer huge benefits to these patients.