UT Startup revolutionizes how patients connect with mental healthcare providers
Have you ever sought out mental health care and felt alone in the process? Vrify Health developed an automated behavioral search engine to tackle the common challenges of reaching out for help.
By Montse Santibanez
I recently had the privilege of sitting down with Vrify Health to learn how they are democratizing patient access to mental health care providers. Vrify Health is a startup co-founded by UT Austin alum Tom Smith (Asian Cultures & Mandarin Chinese, Class of 2019), ROTC instructor Capt. Thomas Hart (Air Force Science, College of Liberal Arts), and Assistant Professor Dr. Kasey Claiborne (Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, Dell Medical School). Through personal experience, Tom realized that finding a mental health care provider can be a huge challenge.
“A lot of people have to see multiple providers or call hundreds, literally hundreds of providers through online directories to find the one that is right for them,” Tom shared. “I thought that is just a waste of time. It’s extremely inefficient on both the provider side and on the patient side. Why should a patient have to spend so much time and money to find the care that’s right for them?”
The team’s research uncovered that the biggest barrier to mental health care was the tedious process of patients being able to find the right care and services. “There are thousands of mental health care providers in Austin alone, but none of that really means anything because you’re only looking for the type of care that’s right for you…You wouldn’t go see a cardiologist if you were having a foot problem,” The process can be time and cost-intensive for both parties, patients and health care providers. Tom saw an opportunity for this data-intensive process to be streamlined through technology. “That’s when we realized an automated autonomous humanoid is probably the best way to go.”
He explained further, “We’re building a virtual therapist which you converse with through a one-on-one video conversation. The virtual therapist is like a humanoid on the other end that can recognize your verbal and nonverbal micro-expressions and behavioral subtleties and connect you to a type of behavioral health specialist or behavioral health care that’s best for you.” Vrify Health recognizes that patients don’t always know if they should seek care from a therapist, psychiatrist, social worker, professional counselor, or even a combination of providers. Instead of leaving people out in a sea of internet searches, Tom’s team wants to make the process easier with their fully autonomous behavioral health search engine.
Tom shared some of the challenges of creating such a new concept, “Ten years ago, if you told someone that you’d be riding in a random stranger’s car to get from point A to point B, they would say you’re crazy. And then, Uber comes along and changes everything.” Similarly, he aspires to build an innovative technology that changes the way people access care for mental health.
Throughout the development phase of Vrify Health, The LaunchPad at UT Austin has proudly been part of Tom’s support system. “The LaunchPad helped me flesh out my idea and the business model. They’ve introduced me to extremely valuable resources’.’ Tom’s favorite aspect of the LaunchPad is the community.
“They are just people that I can bounce ideas off of, people who are extremely supportive, and whom you know are on the sidelines as much as with you in the fight,” expressed Tom.
Long term, Tom wishes to completely replace how people currently interact with their doctors. “Access to a doctor is not a ubiquitous right and actually a privilege for a lot of people. People in rural areas, a lot of times, have to travel long distances to get to medical care. I think that, as technology advances, we could make having basic access to primary care or basic medical care accessible throughout the world. Our team has a vision to augment how medical care is delivered, so patients won’t have to wait for days or drive 50 miles to go see a doctor.”
I don’t know about you, but I was completely amazed by the determination and aspirations of Tom and his team. I will definitely be on the lookout for the company’s future launch. To learn more about Vrify Health visit their website or email firstname.lastname@example.org.