Alumni Profile: Jeronimo Beccar, M.D.E. ‘19
Bridging the gap between primary care and next-generation psychiatry
Losing a friend to suicide led Jeronimo Beccar, M.D.E. ‘19, to a big career change. After earning an undergraduate degree in Visual and Media Arts at Emerson College, Beccar set off for Hollywood, where he worked on film productions. From there, he founded a hardware tech lighting company that fulfilled government contracts in his native Argentina.
But losing one of his closest friends to suicide was never far from his mind. When Jero’s partner was admitted to business school – and after selling his company – he used the ensuing trip to Boston to reassess his career goals.
“That was a moment in time when I had time to think about what I really wanted to do,” Beccar said. “Often, we’re on this constant hamster wheel, and we don't have many moments to pause. With the opportunity to pause, I realized that I wanted to work in health care, specifically mental health care”
So mental health care became Beccar’s focus in the Master in Design Engineering program, run jointly by the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and Graduate School of Design. After the program, he co-founded Hyka through the Harvard Innovation Labs. Today, Hyka helps clinicians identify and connect patients with novel psychiatric treatments such as ketamine, brain stimulation, and psychedelics.
Hyka is an eligibility-and-matching platform that bridges the gaps between patients who are treatment-resistant, novel treatments, and insurance coverage.
“Our value proposition to providers is that if you have patients that aren’t responding to medications, we can connect them with providers of novel mental health treatments,” he said. “There are a bunch of treatments that are very effective, FDA approved, and covered by insurance but aren’t being accessed by people who could benefit from them. The clinics that offer new treatments are independent providers disconnected from telehealth and hospitals, which is where people usually start their mental health journeys. We offer a solution that helps providers identify patients that qualify for treatment, and then helps patients schedule appointments, get approval from insurance carriers, and can even schedule car rides for patients to clinics.”
While filmmaking and mental health tech might seem like they have little in common, for Beccar, the connection is in the ability to present a vision that others cannot yet see. In his previous career, he’d come up with a concept and then have to convince companies or government officials to back him. When it comes to starting a business, he uses a similar approach.
The elderly, especially those on the Medicare Advantage program, and folks with substance use disorders are some of the specific patient populations Beccar and Hyka are trying to help. His ability to determine specific stakeholders with unmet needs is something he learned through the M.D.E.
“At Harvard, we had it drilled into our brains that we need to figure out how to solve complex problems that have multiple stakeholders, and how to align incentives,” he said. “In creating Hyka, I realized I could do this. I could tackle the challenges of mental telehealth from a design perspective, an engineering and technological perspective, and a business perspective. Hyka is successful precisely because we have many different stakeholders, all of whose needs we answer. Our clinics have one set of problems, our telehealth providers have another, and in the middle of all, the patients. They all have different needs and motivations. As we built Hyka, we spent hundreds of hours listening to them individually, and then we figured out a platform that allows us to address what they each need and want. It turns out that while there’s a lot of demand, there’s also a lot of supply for novel treatments. The trouble was these two ends of the spectrum were massively disconnected. We solve that problem.”
The timing didn’t hurt. The prevalence of mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety has increased dramatically during the pandemic, as has the use of telehealth services, according to studies by the Kaiser Family Foundation and World Health Organization. Harvard recently announced a partnership with TimelyMD to offer TimelyCare, a virtual telehealth and well-being platform, to expand student access to telehealth counseling services.
Novel treatments are also gaining widespread acceptance by patients, providers, and insurance companies. With such high demand, Beccar hopes Hyka will continue to increase the treatment options available to telehealth providers, health systems, and their patients.
“We want to become the patient hub for the latest mental health treatments,” he said. “The patient population in mental health has grown exponentially during the pandemic. Demand is unlikely to abate soon. For all the patients for whom traditional treatments may not be enough – and it's a large number – that’s where we come in.”
Matt Goisman | firstname.lastname@example.org