Soon, seeking a mental health clinician could be as easy as finding an apartment on Craigslist for residents of Boston and Providence, R.I.
Zencare.co is a website where people can browse rigorously vetted psychiatrists, therapists and registered dieticians that specialize in treating eating disorders. The website is free for users and includes a free phone consultation system in which users can speak to a clinician for 10 minutes before booking an appointment.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Major Depressive Disorder is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. and anxiety disorders are listed as the most common illness in the U.S.
Quality mental healthcare treatment is in high demand, but finding a provider can be difficult.
“I called twenty clinicians to find my therapist,” said Yuri Tomikawa, Zencare founder and CEO about her experience trying to connect with a provider. “But the call-back rate for therapy is 50 percent or lower.”
The search for a mental health clinician can be overwhelming and difficult to sift through. According to Tomikawa, this is because other directories often provide an overwhelming number of options with information which may not be up-to-date or robust.
This is where Zencare hopes to change the landscape. Tomikawa says the focus of the company is to help patients easily connect to quality mental health care.
“I think the one common thread among people that use our platform is that they want to be educated consumers and they want the best care they can get,” Tomikawa said.
“You can browse photos and videos of quality-vetted mental health clinicians to find the best fit for you,” explained Tomikawa.
Zencare focuses on matching patients based on quality, personality fit, availability and insurance.
The vetting process starts with an interview of the clinicians who apply to be featured on the site. Once selected, Zencare takes photos and videos of the clinicians and their offices. According to Tomikawa, having a sense of what a clinician’s personality is like, and virtually seeing his/her office can reduce prospective clients’ anxiety and help ensure they find the provider best suited for their needs.
The website regularly updates appointment availability and insurance companies that clinicians accept. However, patients would need to contact the clinician through the phone consult system to book appointments and ask more specific insurance-related questions.
The selection process focuses on professional mastery and personality, clinical rigor and professional references.
Zencare is also actively working to find clinicians of varying ethnic backgrounds. Tomikawa often hears from patients that they would feel more comfortable with someone who shares their ethnicity.
“A good therapist-patient relationship increases effectiveness of the treatment outcome. A shared ethnic background plays into it,” explained Tomikawa.
“I think it’s partially why it helps to have someone with the same background and understands your background…It’s easier to reach out and talk to someone and feel like they can share your challenges or appreciate your challenges.”
Cultural understanding is especially crucial after a recent study published by the American Psychology Association showed that only 17 percent of Black middle-class patients received call-backs from clinicians for appointments, when compared to 28 percent of White middle-class patients.
Tomikawa also said that they are searching for clinicians whose expertise lie in LGBT issues.
To hear updates and announcements from Zencare, there is an option to sign up for the newsletter on the website.
“For now, our focus is getting established in Boston and getting more people to know about Zencare,” Tomikawa said of Zencare’s outlook.
“I’d like to encourage any mental health clinicians to reach out as well.”
Karishma B. Desai is an emerging broadcast journalist interested in covering health, international and public interest stories. Desai is currently studying her M.S. in Journalism at Boston University. She also freelances as a web producer at New England Cable News. She hopes to use her skills in journalism to shed light on issues regarding mental health and disparities in health outcomes. In her free time, she enjoys dancing, chugging coffee, reading, writing and exercising.
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