Dr. Ho Anh, MD is a board-certified Physician. He graduated from the University of Virginia where he received a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry and Doctorate of Medicine. He has spent time as a Locum Tenens doctor practicing with the Veterans Health Administration in San Antonio, Texas, rural medicine on the Oregon Coast, and community health in Sacramento, California. His passion to treat patients combined with his interest in innovative telemedicine has taken him from work as Medical Group President at Lemonaid Health and Medical Director at Hims to his current role as Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer at Cerebral.
As a prior Medical Director at Hims and as a previous Medical Group President at Lemonaid Health, you’ve been involved in telemedicine longer than most. What drew you to telemedicine in the first place?
Back when I was in residency, I became fascinated with doing more with less. It’s understood that residency was challenging, but I always looked for ways to improve efficiency, even on a personal level. This continued when I was a pulmonary and critical care fellow, which ultimately led me to discontinue my training. So I moved out west, practicing community medicine, while teaching myself how to program software. I eventually found myself in San Francisco working for Lemonaid.
Cerebral seems to have a different focus than prior telemedicine companies you’ve worked at. What inspired you to found Cerebral and why the focus on mental health?
Most patients typically start their stories off with “I’ve had this for a while…”, and ends with “...but now I realized I need help.” What occurred to me was that if someone took the time to talk with the patient, they’d be more comfortable sharing what is otherwise a very stigmatized subject. You see this a lot with social media influencers; they have a platform through which they can talk about their feelings. So we wanted to make this available to everyone; we want for the patient to feel heard. We aim to make Cerebral the one-stop shop for mental health care. Improving access to high quality mental health care. Make it synonymous with mental health care. First nationally and then globally.
As a company that was launched just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, how has the pandemic affected operations at Cerebral?
The pandemic has forced local physician’s practices to either temporarily close or decrease the volume of people who can be onsite for in-person care. The barriers to access have only been exacerbated, and it’s pushed physicians and patients alike to seek telemedicine care.
Do you expect these changes to last when the pandemic is over?
It depends on what you mean by “is over.” Regardless of one’s thoughts about how and when this pandemic “will end,” I’m confident that the world and the way that we interact with it will be forever changed. With that said, the changes that we’ve seen in telemedicine would not only stay but would advance. Regardless, it’s comforting to know that the current telemedicine system(s) were already in place to support the rapid changes that COVID-19 has forced upon us.
How has your new telemedicine company been received by patients?
It’s been well received! We’re working with a population of people who already face barriers to accessing high quality mental healthcare. They love the fact that we’ve been able to shorten wait times from 3-5 months down to a few minutes. They’re so thankful that we exist to not only initiate management, but, for some patients, to continue management in light of the current pandemic.
What’re the key components of optimizing the patient experience in telemedicine
Telemedicine as it applies to mental health needs to meet people where they are. It’s highly stigmatized, and people want to feel validated. The crux of any patient experience in-person or over tele is to help the patient feel heard.
Are there any limitations of telemedicine that you think may negatively impact its future potential growth?
State regulations. The licensing process is managed on a state-by-state level. So it's important to make sure that you're compliant with local laws where both the provider and patient are located. This is evolving. With COVID-19 state reciprocity agreements for medical licensing, there are more opportunities to bring on providers who are looking to expand their geographic scope of practice.
Speaking of mental health, according to Medscape, 44% of physicians report experiencing burnout across all specialties and 15% experience depression. “Bureaucratic tasks” and “spending too many hours at work” were considered the top two contributors to burnout. Do you see telemedicine as a potential solution?
Absolutely. Moving the entire experience over a digital medium allows for us to design a more effective and efficient work flow. We've developed more creative ways in which we can collect patient histories and mitigate bureaucratic tasks.
As a medical director of several telemedicine companies, you’ve been in charge of hundreds of healthcare providers. What steps do you take to make sure your providers are also taken care of?
Replicating the tools and safety checks that otherwise would be done in-person. We have to make sure that the interests of the patient and the business are in alignment. We’re a data-driven company, where we track depression, anxiety and insomnia scores. This allows us to approach medication through precision prescribing. And as we scale our medical team of counselors, providers, and therapists, we can further the use of that data to match these individuals with our clients.
Any last words of advice for providers that may be considering making the transition from in-person clinical medicine to telemedicine?
Do what you feel is natural. Telemedicine shouldn’t be viewed as a new type of healthcare; it should be an extension of an existing system. To determine if something is safe, you first need to ask yourself, “how can I replicate what I would normally do in-person?”
Cerebral is a mental health subscription that provides clients with ongoing, comprehensive access to online care and medication management for anxiety, depression, and insomnia for one flat monthly rate. Find out more at www.getcerebral.com