How this company is using tech to fix mental health care in America

February 24, 2016

It’s no secret that healthcare in the US is at a critical juncture: lay the groundwork today for a more tech-powered, accessible, and affordable healthcare system tomorrow, or, well, else.

The stakes are high. On all counts and across all industries, businesses are racing to be part of an advancing tide of innovation that’s rehabilitating the way people understand, access, and receive healthcare.

One of the industries most ripe for change is mental healthcare. Though public demand for proper treatment of disorders like depression, anxiety, and PTSD has swelled, one local company says a healthy dose of change is still very much needed.

“We firmly believe the time is ripe for change in mental health,” said Irving Steel, a manager of business development and population health at Chicago’s


According to some estimates, nearly one in five Americans suffer from mental health conditions in a given year and still fewer actively seek treatment. From negative stigma to lack of access and ballooning costs, there’s a gamut of issues that stymie treatments for what Steel called “reluctant care seekers.”

They’re a patient population, he said, whose lack of treatment often burdens the system with unnecessary costs.

“We need to act in a preventative manner,” he added. “There’s a huge problem in that there just aren’t enough clinicians. Over half of American counties do not have a licensed behavioral health clinician. That’s the perfect opportunity to have technology fill that hole.”

That’s where Prevail comes in. The company, an internet-driven provider of mental health services, is fighting to revolutionize mental and behavioral health treatment. Using algorithms and social media, Prevail aims to reach those reluctant care seekers at the earliest sign of mental health concern and bring them into their funnel for preventative health solutions.

Once they’re in, users can explore anonymous, peer-to-peer chat rooms where they can talk with trained peer specialists. If users decide to sign up for Prevail’s program, they undergo both clinical as well as demographic assessments to build a profile, which helps Prevail tailor a package of interactive lessons to each individual user. The process is then gamified, with users earning points for completed tasks that can be redeemed for gift cards.

Steel said many of those lessons have been modeled off current methods of care used by leading clinicians throughout the country, from places like Northwestern University, University of Chicago, and the Beck Institute. By translating those methods to an online experience, Steel said care can be cheaper and more accessible. 

But the service isn't designed to replace traditional mental health care.

“There are certain, high acuity cases that we flag where an online program isn’t enough,” he said, explaining that Prevail connects users with additional resources like face-to-face care when necessary. He said telehealth options — which would allow clinicians to instantly connect with users requiring immediate follow-up care — could also act as a viable resource down the line.

Though this brand of online health services isn’t without its detractors, Steel said the company has undergone a number of clinical trials that indicate user success rates. In addition, they’ve been a national contractor for the Veteran’s Health Administration for about two and a half years, where service women and men can use access Prevail for free.

The company averages about 10,000 users a month, with typical engagement rates clocking in at eight to 10 weeks. But some users, Steel added, have stuck with their program for as long as a year and a half.

Image via Prevail Health. 

Have a tip for us or know of a company that deserves coverage? Shoot us an email or follow us on Twitter @BuiltInChicago.