Palo Alto Medical Foundation taps Meru Health for digital therapeutic for depression

By Jonah Comstock
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The Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF), a healthcare organization that is part of Sutter Health in California, has tapped Meru Health, which has offices in Finland and Palo Alto, to provide a digital program to combat burnout and depression among physicians.

“Research shows depression and burnout are actually a lot the same,” Kristian Ranta, CEO and founder of Meru Health, told MobiHealthNews. “Some people say 80 to 90 percent of burnout is actually depression as well. Therefore PAMF wanted to partner with us and apply the treatment we had developed to help their staff.”

Ranta and his cofounder, both of whom lost family members to depression and suicide, created Meru Health to be an intensive digital therapeutic for depression, based on a stress reduction intervention that was developed in the 70s at the University of Massachusetts.

“We have a digital therapeutic solution which is an eight week program which is based on scientifically-backed, evidence-based psychological components like behavioral therapy and mindfulness-based intervention,” Ranta said. “But we’ve built it into an online context, into a mobile, smartphone-based intensive care.”

Ranta says the platform has similarities to digital diabetes programs like Omada Health, but instead of diabetes, the intervention is for depression. After being referred to the platform by a physician, users have an introductory onboarding call with a Meru Health therapist. After that call, all their actions are via asynchronous messaging. The program takes users through eight weeks of interactive content, with each week dedicated to a particular theme or skill. As they go through the process, users can interact with their therapist and, anonymously, with each other in cohorts of 10 to 15 people.

“Many people achieve remission after eight weeks,” Ranta said. “Many people do get better and stay better. It’s surprisingly effective for many people. The core thing there is, in general, in psychological treatments, like psychotherapy and these mindfulness-based interventions, they tend to be more effective on a longer term keeping people better, not relapsing.”

While the initial pilot is with physicians for burnout — about 30 physicians will start using the platform this month — both PAMF and Meru Health hope that the technology can eventually get into the hands of patients.

As Sutter Health’s John Boyd told MobiHealthNews earlier this week, the health system is in the midst of a major push to address mental health more comprehensively. Meru’s offering could fit right in with that effort.