There is a saying in Alcoholics Anonymous (okay, there is a lot): “It works if you work.” But here’s the problem – many who need to “work” can’t because of the time and cost associated with traditional recovery programs.
This is the problem that Workit Health, a startup founded by Robin McIntosh and Lisa McLaughlin, two techies who met at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in Oakland, Calif., over a decade ago, is trying to solve this problem. By bringing together technologists, clinicians and counselors to develop a digital platform for recovery, the duo hope to be able to reach many more people who need recovery than existing in-person programs.
“Inpatient and outpatient programs are expensive and inconvenient,” says McIntosh, co-founder and co-CEO of Workit Health. “And there hasn’t been a lot of the digital aspect of the recovery, it’s still largely face to face.”
Workit Health started in 2015, long before the pandemic. But it’s no surprise that demand is soaring – and that it announces a $ 12 million Series B funding round, bringing its total funding to $ 20 million so far. That’s because COVID-19 has exacerbated existing addiction issues in the United States, with multiple studies showing the virus has led to an increase in substance abuse and drug overdoses. At the same time, the pandemic has also accelerated request for telemedicine, and for startups that allow it.
“Workit was already at an inflection point in its growth and was ready for it,” said Beth Ferreira, senior partner at New York-based FirstMark Capital. “ The approach is completely holistic and they have the infrastructure to prescribe medication, conduct therapy and group counseling – all aspects of drug treatment on one platform from the safety and privacy of home. .
Ferreira leads the Series B investment in Workit. His firm is joined by Lux Capital, GingerBread Capital, Blue Cross and Blue Shield Venture Partners, and actor Rob Lowe, who is a public advocate for recovery and mental health.
While telemedicine is on the rise in all areas, a recent study from the Commonwealth Fund shows that behavioral health is leading the way: it has the highest percentage of visits currently made online – around 40% of total sessions. Workit Health now has over 10,000 people on its recovery platform, accessing group meetings and 1: 1 counseling sessions, among other forms of treatment and therapy. (Important note: although Workit Health offers multiple recovery paths, its forms of intervention are not new; what is innovative is its delivery model.)
“We have seen a 200% increase in demand partly because people are isolated and unemployed, ”says McLaughlin, the other co-founder and co-CEO of Workit. “All of these things are coming to a head now.”
So far, Workit’s results are promising. A recent white paper from the company showed that its digital-centric approach achieves better retention results than traditional in-person recovery programs. But telemedicine is still in its infancy, relatively speaking, despite the explosion in use that providers have experienced this year. And there is still a lot of data to collect and analyze. The founders of Workit say they haven’t published in peer-reviewed publications yet, but intend to do so. “JAMA calls us on a semi-regular basis, ”says McLaughlin.
For now, the startup is focused on launching in more regions. To date, Workit is available in five states, including Michigan, Washington, and California, and plans to launch in Ohio, Texas and Florida in 2021 (obviously addiction affects both states reds and blues.) The duo, meanwhile, are optimistic that despite rising rates of overdose and drug addiction, the pandemic has silver linings. “Covid has changed so much,” McIntosh says. “We have been advocating remote care for years.”
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