This interview is part of our new AI in Healthcare series, where we interview the world's top thought leaders on the front lines of the intersections between AI and healthcare.
In this interview, we speak with Russell Glass, CEO of Ginger, to understand how his company is using AI to transform healthcare, and what the future of the industry holds.
1. What’s the story behind Ginger? Why and how did you begin?
RG: We’re in a mental health epidemic, yet the average American experiences significant barriers to accessing care in a timely manner. One in five Americans have a mental health condition, and 111 million people live in areas with a shortage of mental health professionals. We can’t retrofit the existing broken system to meet the needs of everyone who needs care.
We believe in a world where everyone deserves affordable access to emotional and mental health support. The inspiration for Ginger originally came from co-founder and COO Karan Singh, who was devastated by a close friend’s suicide attempt. His goal was to develop better, data-driven resources for people suffering from depression and other mental health challenges.
We believe it will take a combination of tech, artificial intelligence, and human capital investment to make mental health care affordable, accessible and easy. Ginger is well on its way there — seven years after our founding, hundreds of thousands of people have access to our virtual behavioral health system through their employer-provided health plan.
2. Please describe your use case and how Ginger. uses artificial intelligence:
RG: Ginger has pioneered a new model of emotional and mental health support, providing access to a world-class team of expert coaches, therapists and psychiatrists via an app powered by machine learning and artificial intelligence to deliver a high-quality experience to each member.
We’re a licensed medical provider that operates through the convenience of a smartphone. Our services range from personal coaching to achieve goals, therapy to deepen self-awareness and psychiatry to manage and treat mental health challenges with the support of medication.
Because we provide care virtually — and in the case of coaching, via an in-app chat — we can uniquely utilize artificial intelligence to help Ginger coaches and clinicians be more efficient and effective with their work. Our system uses natural language processing (NLP) to more fully understand the context of coaching conversations and provides those insights to our coaches so that they can optimize their level of support.
For example, our risk-detection algorithms can flag members when they are at risk of self-harm or suicide. Our platform also utilizes artificial intelligence to assist Ginger coaches and clinicians with workflow management. An example of this is our automated QA, which reviews all of our transcripts and flags areas of improvement for our coaches and clinicians.
3. Could you share a specific customer/user that benefits from what you offer? What has Ginger done for them?
RG: We work with companies of all sizes, providing hundreds of thousands of people access to our on-demand behavioral health solution through their employer-provided health plans. Our customer roster includes notable companies Buzzfeed, Pinterest, and Sephora — where the majority of employees juggle hectic workloads and busy personal lives in today’s always-on environment.
Understanding that their employees wanted immediate, accessible support to cope with daily stressors, Buzzfeed and Sephora started pilot programs with Ginger. Both companies noticed their employees enjoyed using the platform as an intuitive resource to connect with our coaches and therapists anytime, anywhere. This degree of flexibility gave their employees the confidence to seek the behavioral support they needed through the convenience of their mobile phone.
Post-pilot, Buzzfeed and Sephora’s employee response was overwhelmingly positive. By June 2018, Buzzfeed expanded its program internationally. Sephora made the decision to offer Ginger to all 18,000 U.S. employees nationwide, including part-time workers. We are continuing to forge valuable partnerships with other companies, with the goal of making mental health affordable, accessible, and easy.
4. What other AI use cases in healthcare are you excited about?
RG: Overall, we are excited to see how AI is going to improve patient care, including use cases for monitoring patients’ vital levels, improving clinician workflow management or providing doctors with actionable insights in real-time.
It’s no secret that healthcare workers are among the most stressed and often burned out workforce across many industries. On average, a doctor can see 20 patients a day and nearly a quarter of their time is taken up with nonclinical work. Artificial intelligence can reduce the administrative paper filing needed for each patient, and the algorithms are only getting better. New AI-enabled tools are also coming to market, helping predict disease risks or recognize early signs of illness, like cancer, that can be further vetted by doctors.
As AI adoption increases in healthcare, it is comforting to know clinicians will be able to provide personalized, well-informed care for a larger pool of patients without the risk of burning out. Actionable insights provided by AI will allow healthcare workers to act confidently and quickly without needing to sift through large amounts of historical data.
5. Where will your company be in five years?
RG: We are continuing to work to remove the barriers that prevent people from accessing the behavioral healthcare they may need — both domestically and globally. With over 10,000 mental health apps and platforms available in the marketplace, there is still significant confusion on what platform boasts what capabilities, e.g. meditation, mindfulness, and therapy. We welcome other players to the space as mental health services’ supply and demand is critical, but we aim to become the leading comprehensive platform where people with behavioral health disorders can seek end-to-end coaching and care.