A local startup is taking a fresh approach to mental health in the workplace.
Mental health and wellness at work is an issue that has bubbled up into corporate thinking over the past few years.
A 2020 Productivity Commission report estimated that the cost of mental ill-health and suicide in Australia is in the order of $220 billion a year.
A group of Western Australian mental health professionals has decided to do something to better coordinate care for those in need, based off their own experiences with patients.
Dealing with returning veterans, who have an even higher preponderance towards adjustment issues post-service life, they have developed an app called Oqea that aims to provide early intervention and coordinate family, friends, counsellors, clinicians and carers together.
“We liken it to putting a scaffolding of care around the patient,” Oqea CEO Martyn Weir told Business News.
“The fragmented nature of the current mental health system in its entirety is a challenge within the medical professional sector, and currently there is no-one who is addressing this on a holistic level.
“The [current] system does not connect the person to what they need, leaving so many at the mercy of underfunded, overpriced services that may not be right for the patient.
“An analogue system in our digital world is simply not acceptable, as the system can’t keep up with demand.”
Often, he said, these care systems were so uncoordinated that, as patients moved from one area to another, or from one issue to another, there was no single overview of what they needed.
There are 650,000 veterans in Australia. Oqea started with this sector, as their needs seemed most acute.
“In the veterans’ community, the person may have multiple issues at the same time.
"Yet now, they can interact with Oqea through their membership organisation, such as their RSL,” Mr Weir said.
“They can reach out to them for employment assistance, perhaps financial support and other care.”
The app is free for the user, and Oqea is paid by the member organisation.
Having launched the service just before COVID-19 last year, an updated version went live in December.
More than 14,000 members now have access to the service, with 70 care and other organisations (physios, dietitians, financial advisers, counsellors and others) providing services through the app.
Individuals can also download and pay for the services directly.
The idea is to grow the service into other sectors, such as youth – again, using member organisations to reach their target users – and then to the corporate sector.
“The Oqea app was a very timely improvement in the way our patients and teams of health professionals could connect and collaborate to get better outcomes,” Oqea chairman Murray Chapman said.
“As a psychiatrist, I understood both the importance of connectivity for many who are experiencing mental health challenges and also the need for a better, easier and more effective system from a practitioner perspective.
“That’s why the addition of the Oqea.net – a web-based platform for practitioners to easily and effectively book in and bill clients, communicate and share important information such as resources and clinical advice in between appointments when needed – has been popular for employers and health organisations to provide holistic care not just for clients, but for themselves as well.”
The company has been funded by high-net-worth individuals and is currently closing a seed B round of $1.7 million, most of which is already in place.
The team consists of 16 staff, in Perth and the Philippines.
The new funding will allow Oqea to integrate more artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities into the service, as well as grow into markets around Australia, and then other countries.
As for the name – Oqea – it is totally made up, but as some users have begun to pronounce it ‘okay’, Mr Weir says that that is ‘oqea’ with him.
• Charlie Gunningham is founder and principal of digital strategy advisory business Damburst