Turning to digital technology to improve access to mental health care

Jesper Enander, chief psychologist at KRY, offers an insight into the Swedish company’s digital psychology service.
By Leontina Postelnicu

Globally, one in two individuals are estimated to experience a mental health problem in their lifetime, according to the OECD, which can impact their overall health and relationships. 

However, with healthcare systems around the world grappling with challenges including an increasing burden of chronic disease and ageing populations, efforts to improve access to services in this area are sometimes left on the backburner.

What’s more, the latest Health at a Glance report indicates that many countries in the OECD believe that their mental health care is “inadequate”. 

As the digital health industry grows, a rising number of innovators are venturing into the mental health space, vowing to offer patients more choice, greater flexibility, and, most importantly, faster access to high-quality care.

Sweden’s KRY, known as LIVI outside the Nordics, is one of the companies trying to do exactly that. It launched its digital psychology service in March 2018, a little over six months after hiring now chief psychologist Jesper Enander.

Brought in to develop the digital mental health offering, prior to KRY, Enander worked in the public healthcare system in Sweden and carried out research on the digitisation of psychology at the world-renowned Karolinska Institute.

“The main reason for me joining is because there is really poor access or was poor access to health services in Sweden, and in other countries as well, for mental health.

“It can be really hard for a patient to get access to a psychologist or to mainstream treatments, and this is something that must change, so what we did was a digital psychology service, so you have video calls with psychologists, and it’s easier for patients to seek care,” he tells MobiHealthNews.

“It works just like conventional health care, but with the difference that the patient doesn’t have to travel to a clinic to see a psychologist, but rather can do it at home, or in an environment of their own choosing.”

Since 2018, KRY psychologists have reportedly carried out over 50,000 consultations. The service, which is nationally available, has proven to be most popular with young people, especially women aged 20 to 35.

Giving patients the ability to access a doctor the same day rather than having to wait months on end or “getting stuck” somewhere in the system has been integral to the company’s success, Enander says.

But the stigma around mental health is still there. “I think one of the reasons that you have the stigma is because it’s been hard to access treatment or treat your problems,” Enander explains. “We need to talk about these issues.”

Earlier this month, KRY announced that it secured €140 million in Series C funding to accelerate its push into new markets. The company is already operating in five countries, Sweden, Norway, Germany, France and the UK. 

Its digital psychology service, however, is only available in Sweden at the moment, and Enander would not confirm whether plans for further expansion were in the works.

“I would love to see it in other markets as well,” he says. “The more digitally-empowered the patient is, the more that they are in control of their own health and care.”