In an exclusive interview with CBS News, the new CEO of online mental health startup Cerebral said he’s “confident” in the company’s prescribing practices, despite a Justice Department investigation of allegations it over prescribed controlled substances like Adderall.
Cerebral is the largest of a number of online mental health companies that offer medication management and therapy for conditions like ADHD and depression.
Cerebral’s CEO and former chief medical officer, Dr. David Mou, told CBS News consumer investigative correspondent Anna Werner that the company is cooperating with the Justice Department and is “confident that our clinical programs are very, very good. And if anything, they’re above standard of care.”
However, documents obtained by CBS News show Cerebral leadership knew about numerous risks facing the company, ranging from “clinical safety issues,” “hires (who) may not…meet our hiring standards,” and staff “practicing with expired (or) suspended license(s).” The document also noted that “duplicate accounts” created a “patient safety issue” because it meant “multiple controlled substances (could) be overprescribed to the same individual.”
Asked about the risks outlined in that document, Mou said, “I rest by the fact that I really trust our clinical program. As chief medical officer, I came in with the mandate of bringing in quality and safety, and I did just that.”
Launched in January 2020, Cerebral exploded in popularity during the pandemic, thanks to relaxed prescribing regulations and high demand for online care. By the end of 2021, the company was valued at $4.8 billion and had signed Olympic gymnast Simone Biles as its chief impact officer.
Mou believes Cerebral “saves lives,” but CBS News spoke to over a dozen former Cerebral patients who said they had problems with Cerebral’s quality of care.
“They just really gave me a bad experience that I’ll never forget,” Rachael Costar said.
Costar signed up, met with her prescriber online, and got a prescription all in a single day. But after that, she saidwhen she needed instructions from her prescriber on how to safely switch to the new medication they gave her.
“Every time I needed her help, she was never available,” said Costar.
An internal log obtained by CBS News shows Cerebral employees had flagged nearly 1,200 instances of prescribers being unresponsive to patients over the past 11 months. Cerebral said the internal logging of its prescription issues shows the “safety checks and balances” it has in place.
Mou, who took over as CEO last month, said the company is “very serious about continuous improvement here.” However, he maintained that their system works.
“You have to take this in aggregate. And many of our patients do really well,” Mou said.
“I refer my close friends, my family members, to use Cerebral,” he went on. “Our commitment here is the quality of care. And now that I’m CEO, we’re gonna double down and triple down on that thesis.”
Last month Cerebral announced it will stop prescribing most controlled substances to new patients.
After CBS News’ interview with Costar, Cerebral apologized to Costar, said the clinician who worked with her did not follow the proper procedures and is no longer working with the company.
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