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Online Cognitive Therapy OKed by Health Insurance

My apologies for not writing in a few days…the Global Agenda Summit in Dubai has required all my attention – I will summarize the great experience when I land back in San Francisco tomorrow night.

The concepts of night and day do become challenging when working for a few days in a place with a 12-hour time difference with one’s home base. Sleep is indeed very important to maintain top cognitive shape…which leads me to a fascinating news announcement:

Health insurance firms offering online cognitive therapy for insomnia (Los Angeles Times)

– “helping consumers get a good night’s sleep has become a priority for most of the top-tier U.S. health insurance companies, including WellPoint, Aetna, Cigna, Kaiser Permanente and several Blue Cross plans. Their new programs don’t involve sleeping pills. Instead, insurers are advocating the use of cognitive behavior therapy. Traditionally, the therapy has been done largely through face-to-face sessions, but many of the programs are now available online.”

– “And use of sleeping pills has skyrocketed. A study this year in the journal Health Affairs found a 50% jump in sleeping pill use — from 5,445 people per 100,000 in 1998 to 8,194 per 100,000 people in 2006. Though one version of Ambien, a popular sleep aid, is now available as a lower-cost generic costing about 50 cents per pill, newer drugs such as Rozerem and Lunesta cost about $4 and $5 per pill, respectively, or a minimum of nearly $1,500 per year for patients who take a sleeping pill every night. Online behavioral therapy programs cost less than $40 per user, and face-to-face counseling can range from about $300 to $1,800, depending on how many sessions a patient goes through and what level of specialist, from social worker to psychiatrist, provides the therapy.”

– “Unlike sleeping pills, counseling is usually a one-time thing and costs do not continue year to year.”

To read more on this trend – see The Future of Computer-assisted Cognitive Therapy

– In short, here we have a number of major societal problems (anxiety, depression…) that affect people of all ages, and an intervention that teaches people cognitive skills to be able to manage those related challenges better.  Talk about “teaching how to fish” vs. simply handing out fish (which we could argue is what antidepressant medications do).

– Why don’t more people benefit today from that approach? A major problem, in my view, is the lack of a scalable distribution model. Meaning, using the traditional face-to-face approach, one needs to create, train, certify, ensure quality of, a very large  network of practitioners.

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