Will virtual doctors be a post-pandemic trend?

The Covid-19 pandemic has raised questions about mental health as a result of lock-down as well as the physical damage caused by the disease itself. This has been exacerbated due to the lack of access to in-person therapy and counselling appointments.

The sharp rise in demand for counselling enabled a mental health start-up, Meru Health, to raise $8.1 million on 13 May this year on the back of a virtual therapy offering, which is follow up to its $4.2m raise 25th April 2019.

Meru Health, founded in 2016, is outperforming. Meru’s physicians are treating up to 120 patients each, instead of the traditional 20 patients that counselling services normally allow. The firm is moving into an investment field crowded by firms providing telemedicine and meditation services, like Headspace and Lyra.  

These types of online service connect patients to licensed therapists for a 12-week program that aims to treat people experiencing stress, depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.  

Meru is among a growing pool of mental health start-ups that have attracted a spike in funding this year, partly due to the impact of the global pandemic. In the first quarter of 2020, mental health start-ups raised $462 million across 30 transactions, compared to $750 million raised for all of 2019.

In the light of the strong impact that Covid-19 has already had on changing people’s behaviour and priorities, it seems likely that online/virtual doctor visits will be the new trend post-pandemic extending far beyond the mental health sub-sector, potentially raising margins in many areas of healthcare.

A change in behaviour, driven by an economic shock, is only part of the investment case in healthcare, but it could well be the watershed force. The abilities of remote medical monitoring technologies and AI that can more reliably interpret data than health professionals such as radiologists is proven. Put these developments together and it looks like the arrival of a long projected sub-sector market in healthcare is upon us.

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