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How to get mental health help where there are no doctors

Textbook economics teaches that, in a free market, supply rises to meet demand until price reaches an equilibrium. When it comes to mental health services, though, the supply of psychiatrists is declining despite widespread need, resulting in patients not getting treatment in a timely manner.

“Every single state suffers from a shortage,” says David Cohn, CEO of Regroup Therapy, a telepsychiatry company he founded in 2011, “and 55 percent of U.S. counties have no mental health clinicians.”

Regroup’s mission is to fill that void by supplying credentialed and fully vetted clinicians—psychiatrists, social workers and advanced practice nurses—who can “see” patients via a secure video platform that’s HIPAA-compliant. “Literally, the only difference is our clinicians are in two dimensions,” Cohn says.

The for-profit company’s customers are not the individuals themselves, but hospitals, primary care clinics, correctional institutions and community-based outpatient centers through which people access health care. In the Chicago market, clients include Sinai Health System, Oak Street Health and Metropolitan Family Services. They’re billed monthly for services rendered and reimbursed by patients’ insurers or government programs such as Medicaid and Medicare.

Cohn, 37, who grew up on the North Shore, says he always had an interest in both technology and mental health, but didn’t see himself becoming a clinician. After majoring in economics at Colorado College, spending two years in Guatemala with the Peace Corps and managing sales and services in Latin America and Europe for CEB, formerly known as Corporate Executive Board, he earned his MBA at IE Business School in Madrid, where he hatched the idea for Regroup Therapy as a class project.

He started Regroup with $60,000 from friends, family and his own savings. The company has raised $8.4 million from investors including OSF Ventures, Hyde Park Angels, OCA Ventures and Frist Cressey Ventures.

Revenue jumped from less than $500,000 last year to a projected $10 million-plus in annual recurring revenue by year-end. Regroup now employs 23 full-time staffers in its headquarters in Ravenswood on the North Side and serves nearly 50 health entities with a network of more than 3,000 clinicians. Roughly half of treatment hours are provided by clinicians who work full time for Regroup; the remainder are part-time contractors. Clinicians are paid $45 to $300 per hour. Full-timers also receive benefits such as health care coverage, medical malpractice insurance and a 401(k) retirement plan.

At its 2017 awards program Nov. 9 in Chicago, the Illinois Telehealth Initiative recognized Regroup with an award for Advancing Telehealth by Innovation. Nancy Kaszak, the initiative’s director, cites Regroup’s easy-to-use video platform and system integration as strengths in the telehealth field. “Hospitals are big on their records and their systems,” she says, “and if you can’t integrate into that system, it becomes an issue.”

Originally featured in Crain’s Chicago.