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Ginger.io is reinventing mental health care by combining data science and virtual platforms for on-demand health care through their mobile application. They aim to bridge the divide between those seeking care and the overburdened and inefficient healthcare system by providing on-demand individualized health care, but is it as effective as they claim?
Ginger.io is a good option among app-based health platforms with its accessibility, data integrated collaborative health systems, and on-demand availability. But also consider the risks, such as privacy concerns, lack of clinical trial support, and possibilities of overdiagnosis and overmedication.
The state of the world’s mental health has never been worse—the high cost and lack of access to mental health care continue to leave many to face mental illness alone. So, if you are interested to know what Ginger.io is and whether or not it is effective, read on to find out. We will also discuss how much it costs, how it works, and its privacy and safety risks.
What Is Ginger.io?
Ginger.io was founded in 2011 by Alex Pentland, Anmol Madan, Karan Singh, Ryan O’Toole, a group of data scientists and engineers from MIT. The name Ginger was chosen by Anmol Madan to pay homage to his mother’s ginger tea that was a cure-all for any illness. Initially, a passive data analysis was used to alert members to behaviors that were symptomatic, then the application evolved.
The Ginger.io system evolved from a passive monitoring system into an integrated mental healthcare platform with on-demand services. Today, they reach millions of in need members in over 30 countries through its collaboration with employers and health plan providers.
The Ginger.io star seems to be on the rise as they extend their services to over 30 countries and 200 companies joining their ranks, including:
- Delta Airlines
Why Was Ginger.io Created?
It is not news that our mental health systems are overtaxed, and depression and mental illness are on the incline. Some 45 million million adult Americans are experiencing mental health illness, and 59% of the 12-17 age group suffering from major depressive episodes are not receiving any treatment. Almost a quarter of the 45 million adults suffering from mental illness are reported not being able to receive the medical treatments they needed.
The reasons behind those with mental illness not being able to receive treatment are multiple and include:
- Lack of comprehensive health insurance or limited cover
- Lack of qualified psychiatrists and understaffed mental health system
- Lack of available treatments such as inpatient treatments and individual therapies
- Lack of finances to fund therapy
- Lack of coordination between primary health care and behavioral health systems
The founders of Ginger.io found that this shortfall in much needed mental health care needed to be addressed as a matter of urgency. For co-founder Karan Singh, who had recently had a loved one attempt suicide, the need for accessible health care was particularly pertinent. Ginger.io was created to provide those in need of care with a direct channel to the services they most need.
From a platform that sold insights to healthcare providers, they evolved to become the leading platform delivering mental health care. This unprecedented expansion of data collection to health care delivery has gained the world’s notice and opened some contentious dialogue regarding the limitations of mobile-based health platforms.
Before spearheading Ginger.io, Anmol Madan was a researcher at MIT Media Lab, where he engaged in a collaborative study of ‘reality mining,’ which analyzes human behavior data generated by their usage of technology. By examining the passive digital traces of mobile phone usage, they found they could identify predictable behaviors in the user.
When these findings also showed how people’s symptomatic depression could be traced to their passive digital footprints, Madan became intrigued. He wished to apply these techniques to a wide range of disease areas, from diabetes to mental health.
The idea of Ginger.io emerged from the possibility that behavioral data accessed from smartphones, such as location, text duration and frequency, and user movements could form a baseline from which deviations could indicate the onset of symptoms. This commonly used practice of using algorithms to predict consumer behavior became a potential baseline on which to measure and monitor mental health.
The Aims of Ginger.io
With an alarming percentage of those with mental illness who did not have access to mental health care, the co-founder of Ginger.io, Karan Singh, Madan, decided to fulfill this obvious need. With the insights he had gained on passive data collection as a prediction of human behavior, the team set about to use a ‘human check engine light‘ to alert users to signals of behavioral patterns that might signal a need for care.
Ginger.io’s founders wanted to tackle the stigma around mental health that often made it difficult for some individuals to appeal for help. Because of a lack of public mental health access, the team wanted to provide 24-hour care in real-time when symptoms often do not follow consulting hours.
The final aim was to provide accessible and affordable care to as wide a range of sufferers as possible by harnessing the power of digital technology.
The First Ginger.io
By making a smartphone app their focus, they used Madan’s research into reality mining and integrated their aims into the launch of Ginger.io. From the easy registration and medical history of the user, the app would passively begin collecting data centered around the users’ cell phone activity.
When passive data showed atypical use from the passive data baseline, they responded by sending a text to the user/and or specified person (family, friends, health practitioner) to bring their attention to a potential problem.
How Ginger.io Evolved
After four years, Ginger.io had developed a significant user base, especially when feedback from users made them aware that they could be doing more for the community.
They made a decision to go back to the primary source of behavioral care, which was always a human connection. For those who didn’t have their own mental health providers to assist them in situations of need, they decided to engage human care into Ginger.io.
Matching Users With a Personal Health Coach
The designated personal health coach on Ginger.io forms the center point of the collaborative care model and links the patients to professional mental health practitioners, according to their specific needs.
At the same time, they began in-application resources such as cognitive behavioral therapy and exercises and activities to support user coaching sessions with personalized interactive content.
The coach also provides real-time interaction with the ability to address issues as they arise and access licensed therapy to psychiatry if needed.
Eliminating the Need for Patient-Reported Outcomes (PROs)
The integration of technology and human-centered care in the Ginger.io workings have circumvented one of the primary obstacles for effective mental health management; reliance on Patient-Reported Outcomes (PROs). PROs have been the standard way that healthcare professionals have assessed patient risk and mental, physical and social health.
The information that the patient provides traditionally formed the basis of clinical decision making and research. With the Ginger.io system providing passive, contextualized data, the information is objective and unbiased and, therefore, more valuable.
Recent Development in Ginger.io
On August 12, 2020, Ginger.io announced a $50 million Series D-funding led by Advance Venture Partners and Bessemer Venture Partners. This figure brings the company’s total funding to over $120 million dollars.
This funding is due in part to some positive results from the Journal of Medical Internet Research on Ginger.io’s effectiveness in reducing depression. This conclusion was drawn from the clinical study that monitored the effects of Ginger.io services on 1662 participants over an 8-12 week study period.
The company intends to use this funding to extend its reach and widen access to its virtual therapy and psychiatry features. They aim to extend their in-network benefits through their collaboration with regional and national health plans.
This announcement came hot on the heels of alarming statistics regarding the crisis in mental health brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. In their Ginger 2020 Mental Health report, 70% of the American workforce rated their stress during the pandemic as greater than in the September 11 attacks and the 2008 recession.
Ginger.io reported a dramatic increase in demand for their health care services, with weekly usage rates soaring 125% for Ginger.io based coaching. Therapy demand increased exponentially, with Ginger.io reporting an unprecedented 265% rise in demand for online therapy sessions post-COVID-19.
Ginger.io announced the formation of their Ginger Advisory Board with some of the best minds from MIT, the University of Washington, and Massachusetts General Hospital. Ginger continues to use technology to tackle mental health needs and transform the traditional structures of healthcare services.
How Does Ginger.io Work?
Ginger.io aims to pioneer a new system health care platform to connect those in need of care with integrated and data-supported health care. They have multiple features to allow members to customize their experiences and access healthcare in a non-stigmatized and easy-to-access format. Their features include:
Ginger.io offers coaching as first-level support when users need support. Not every person who needs support needs the services of a professional health care provider necessarily. Ginger.io’s coaches help people suffering from anxiety, stress, and depression that are endemic to our modern lives.
The Ginger.io coaches are there on demand, which means that if users are suffering a crisis in the early hours, there will be someone to assist them in real-time. Members may chat with their coach via the app discreetly and from wherever they are.
Coaches provide individualized plans to each user that are created from motivational interviewing techniques and personalized goal settings. Ginger.io coaches offer assistance with:
- Setting goals
- Managing stress
- Improving self-esteem
- Recovery from loss
- Balancing home and work-life
- Improving communication
Members may use their day-to-day activities with their coach in tandem with their therapists to deepen their self-awareness and process emotions. Coachwork may supplement members’ psychiatric work and therapy sessions through check-ins and curated content.
If it is needed, the Ginger.io coach can escalate members to appointments with psychiatrists or therapists within days, unlike the national average of 6 weeks.
Ginger.io Teletherapy and Telepsychiatry
Ginger.io has a vast network of qualified mental health therapists and psychiatrists that can be accessed within hours of registration. You will have access to live video therapy and psychiatric counseling and evaluation seven days a week on both evenings and weekends.
The average time before your first appointment on Ginger.io is 10.5 hours, and you may rate your sessions. Your feedback allows Ginger.io to cater to your therapy to suit your personal preferences.
Ginger.io provided members with over 100 activities to improve their mental well-being, which they are updated weekly. These activities take less than 5 minutes but cover the important self-improvement strategies such as:
You have access to your own coach whenever you need them, day or night, and a personalized care team who work together to create an individualized plan specific to your goals. This eliminates the common delays in private and public healthcare and provides real-time communication for those in need.
Ginger.io takes client confidentiality seriously, and your employers may not access your private information, and information is protected by law. Ginger.io strives to provide the latest advances in cybersecurity to client information and endeavors to protect the sensitive information of their clients.Ginger.io claims to have created a safe place where people can seek real-time counseling without fear of privacy infringement.
The Benefits of Ginger.io Online Therapy Tools
Reduce the Symptoms of Mental Illness
Studies are finding evidence that online therapy may be as effective in lessening symptoms as traditional therapy models. The areas of mental health where the clinical studies show the most promise are in the areas of depression, anxiety, and stress.
Data gleaned from the analysis of 3,876 adults showed that those engaged in internet-based behavioral therapy had more positive outcomes than those who did not access online therapies.
Reduce the Stigma of Traditional Mental Health Care
Online on-demand mental healthcare platforms such as Ginger.io address a fundamental concern in those with mental healthcare needs. The stigma attached to mental health often prevents those with mental illness from approaching traditional therapies.
The online-based care system allows users to access health care in a private and secure manner from the comfort of their homes, reducing the stigma associated with approaching mental health practitioners.
The traditional primary mental health system is overburdened, understaffed, and often ineffective. Professional health care costs are often prohibitive, preventing many of those with a genuine need for therapy from accessing care. Often the traditional healthcare system may take up to six weeks from referral to therapy, often in times of critical need.
Ginger.io addresses this lack of accessibility in a fundamental way, providing round the clock access to care. The fact that the provided care is mobile phone-based ensures that geographical distance or crisis that occur outside of traditional health care operating hours can be addressed.
Ginger.io has found that their care channels are often busiest at night or in the early hours when those with mental conditions are usually most vulnerable.
Integrated Mental Healthcare
Ginger.io offers designated coaches, therapists, and psychiatrists collaborating with family members and member designated support. This integration of services is almost impossible in the overstaffed traditional mental health care system.
The unprecedented integration of behavior-based symptom monitoring and real-time on-demand support and counseling has very real implications for the future of mental health care services.
The traditional reliance on Patient-Reported Outcome Measures (PROMS) meant that health care practitioners often had to rely primarily on the patients themselves when assessing factors such as patient risk and mental health. With the digital-based passive data collection, Ginger.io found access to real-time indicators of user patterns that evidenced symptomatic behavioral anomalies.
Often, mentally ill patients are reluctant to reach out for care, and the monitoring system eliminates the need for the patient to seek counseling or support proactively. Based on member digital behaviors, Ginger.io’s alert system works in real-time to address symptomatic signs and engage care providers.
The Safety Risks of Mobile-Based Mental Healthcare Provider Platforms
Overdiagnosis and Overtreatment
One area of concern expressed by health care professionals is that apps such as Ginger.io frame normal life under the lens of clinical care. Using data-based algorithmic diagnostics to measure mental health may cause normal stress responses to be overdiagnosed. Without the input of a provider, self-monitoring may influence people to believe that normal stress behaviors were symptoms of illness and lead to overtreatment.
The Promotion of Mental Health Problems As the Norm
Platforms such as Ginger.io promote the self-help aspect of their services while delivering a message that mental health conditions exist for everyone. When mental health is framed in these terms that mental-ill health is a ubiquitous condition, it does set the stage for increased self-diagnosis.
Without contextualized factors of influence and instigating factors for stress responses’ normal reactions to stress triggers are framed as a symptom of ill health.
There seems to be a need for alternative views as to what constitutes normal behavioral responses without necessarily prompting diagnosis and medicalization. The implications that app use for sustaining mental wellness is implicit in the marketing of apps such as Ginger.io and the concurrent sacrifices of privacy are underplayed.
Digital Placebo Effect
Two clinical studies of randomized controlled trials on smartphone-based apps conducted independently can up with interesting results. One trial measured how mental health apps helped reduce anxiety, and the other measured the reduction in depressive symptoms.
The experimental apps seemed to be moderately effective in reducing depressive symptoms with smartphone app use, compared to the waitlist participants who did not. However, these positive effects diminished somewhat when active control conditions were imposed. Some believe that a digital placebo may play a part in these settings, much like those involved in non-digital studies.
One of the first mental health clinical studies had an unintended result. While trying to measure the efficacy of mobile-based therapy for depression, they asked their test subjects to record their symptoms of depression and begin to use the self-monitoring feature. Even before they were introduced to the therapy, the test subjects already showed significantly reduced symptoms of depression.
The digital placebo effect is problematic when it comes to mobile mental health research. It is hard to define whether positive results recorded in a trial are the result of the app itself or the expectations of the treatment. The powerful effect of self-monitoring and user expectations can cause a concurrent modification of users’ mental states.
It would necessitate a system of double-blind, randomized control trials to effectively separate the effectiveness of app-based interventions from digital placebo effects.
Lack of Evidence-Based Proof of Efficacy
One would assume that having been operational for almost a decade, that Ginger.io would have more evidence-based proof of their application’s efficacy in clinical trials. Lack of FDA approval also seems late in the day as more and more mental health apps achieve the FDA green light. Without some kind of dedicated impartial service to rate the efficacy of mobile-based health apps, users tend to rely on user ratings as a guide.
In a recent review of over 700 mindfulness, only 23 offered any actual mindfulness training and education. Only one had the support of empirical data. Yet, user satisfaction ratings showed no noticeable difference between the few real mindfulness apps and the ersatz versions. This is a concerning reflection of using customer ratings as a means of choosing mental health apps.
For a company that claims the ethical high ground of providing the populace with access to healthcare, their big-name employer-based packages seem questionable. No data system is failsafe today; as technology advances, so do the systems to undermine them.
The potential implications of an app that is privy to your phone records, movements, habits, and personal therapy-based information are frightening. By using your GPS and motion accelerometer, the Ginger.io app can trace your movements (and non-movements) as well as your calls, who you call, and the length of your conversion. Information of this nature in the wrong hands could be catastrophic.
Adam Tanner wrote a damning expose of underhanded practices of the medical community Our Bodies, Our Data: How Companies Make Billions Selling Our Medical Records. So-called ‘anonymized’ patient medical data has become a multibillion-dollar worldwide trade in the pharmaceutical industry. The implications of mobile-based mental health and behavioral data could be the next El Dorado.
How Much Does Ginger.io Cost?
Ginger.io is notoriously hushed about their pricing for company based services. They will only provide pricing information to registered companies with verifiable employees. I managed to receive a quote for my company, with nine staff members of $30,000 per annum. I would imagine larger companies would be offered a far higher fee.
It does seem that bigger businesses would be more likely to afford these kinds of prices, with a $30,000 dollar price tag being well out of the reach of most small businesses. One would think that the company that professes to be delivering healthcare to the world might have a price structure more accessible.
The only available pricing online was published by TheNextWeb in 2017 and states the prices as $129, $249, and $349 depending on the level of access you require in terms of therapists and psychiatrists.
With Salary.com quoting psychiatrists’ hourly fees as being $120, the price tag looks a lot less daunting and a sizable reduction in the costs associated with traditional therapy. A biweekly appointment with a psychiatrist for a month could cost you up to $880 and would only provide you with your hourly session.
Ginger.io’s star seems to be on the rise as more app-based health platforms get the green light from the FDA. Their undertaking is revolutionary and set to change the face of (or screen) mental health worldwide. As more clinical trials emerge to back the efficacy of data-driven mobile phone-based mental health care is set to become mainstream.
Ill health costs companies with WHO estimating a trillion-dollar worldwide loss a year, which is something to consider. But the implications of an employer-based health care service do raise some questions.
In the unchartered territory of on-demand mobile application based healthcare, there seem to be too many potential hazards. How they intend to protect member information in the future remains to be seen. How ‘scrupulous’ they will be while ‘reality mining’ members personal and behavioral patterns also remain to be seen. Our Ginger.io rescuers’ might just turn out to be highwaymen.
- Mobi Health News: Ginger.io Relaunches Full-Stack Online Mental Healthcare Service
- Clarks Consulting: How Does the FDA Regulate Mental Health Apps?
- Stanford Byers Center for Biodesign: Ginger.io User-Focused Ideation and Design
- BusinessWire: Ginger Forms Advisory Board to Advance Innovation and Research in Mental Healthcare
- Vator: When Ginger Was Young: The Early Years
- World Health Organization: Mental Health in the Workplace
- Harvard Business Review: AI’s Potential to Diagnose and Treat Mental Illness
- Psychology Today: Digital Health and the Rise of Mental Health Apps
- Annals of Family Medicine: Mental Health Messages in Prominent Mental Health Apps
- Journal of Medical Internet Research: Evaluation of On-Demand Mental Health System for Depression Symptoms
- Ginger.io: Home
- AP News: New data from Ginger Shows 70 Percent of Workers Feel More Stressed During Covid-19
- BusinessWire: Ginger Announces $50 Million in Series D Funding to Expand access to the World’s First On-Demand Mental Healthcare System
- Mental Health America: Prevalence Data 2008
- Amazon: Our Bodies, Our Data: How Companies Make Billions Selling Our Medical Records
- OneHealthTech: Health apps and Evidence: Why Can’t We Be ‘Appy All the Time
- ResearchGate: The digital placebo effect: Mobile Mental Health Meets Clinical Psychiatry
- Salary: Hourly wage for Psychiatrist
- NCBI: A comprehensive review and a meta-analysis of the effectiveness of Internet-based psychotherapeutic interventions
- iMedicalApps: Why Ginger.io is the Most Innovative Startup
- JAMA Network: Efficacy of Self-guided Internet-Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in the Treatment of Depressive Symptoms
- PubMed: Guided Internet-based vs. face-to-face cognitive behavior therapy for psychiatric and somatic disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysis