This has been a missed opportunity since holistic healing is no longer a fringe discipline. According to a CDC survey conducted in 2012, nearly 40 percent of American adults have used some form of alternative medicine, with $30.2 billion spent on practices like Ayurveda, nutritional therapy, hypnosis, and acupuncture in that year alone. Given that this study took place before the wellness revolution truly took hold in the mid-2010s—and social media platforms like Instagram began opening peoples' eyes to practices and healers they may have never considered before—it's safe to say that those numbers likely are even higher now.
Thankfully the tech world is taking notice, and finding a real-deal alternative health practitioner is quickly becoming as seamless as swiping right for a Friday night date. Digital entrepreneurs are racing to roll out new platforms that make it easier for consumers to find and access complementary therapies they can trust, while giving alternative health practitioners the tools to grow their businesses like never before.
Taking holistic wellness into the digital age
One company that's addressing both of these needs is LA-based company Holisticism, which started out as a consumer-facing wellness content and events platform. "Our mission is to make wellness as relatable, affordable, and easy to access as possible," says founder Michelle Pelizzon, a former dancer and nutritionist who spent her pre-Holisticism years working in startups.
As she started to dig into the issue, however, she realized that expanding access to wellness has to start with those offering the treatments—and there were certain things blocking them from serving a greater audience. "The thing I kept hearing is that practitioners want to help as many people as they can. They want their prices to be affordable and they want to heal the world. But a lot of them are small business owners and most of the time, they don’t have a business background," Pelizzon says. "They haven’t been trained to do things like market themselves or run the back end of their business. I realized that if I could help holistic wellness practitioners run their businesses virtually, I could solve a lot of those pain points very easily."
With that in mind, Pelizzon used her tech-industry background to create software that allows intuitive readers, Reiki healers, nutritionists, and other wellness practitioners to take their businesses fully online, from scheduling and customer service to payment processing, virtual session hosting, and transcription. This has a potential trickle-down effect for consumers. "We do all the back-office stuff for [practitioners] at a very affordable rate, and that means they can lower their own costs and maybe they can pass that along to their clients. Plus, [practitioners] can reach people no matter where they are—they can help populations all over as long as people have a decent internet connection." There are currently around 400 practitioners on the Holisticism platform, all of whom were thoroughly interviewed and verified by Holisticism (such as checking their credentials and experience) before being accepted.
"Bringing this stuff online lowers the barrier to entry cost-wise and time-wise." —Michelle Pilizzon, founder, Holisticism
Holisticism also offers a library of free content and frequent, $10 virtual wellness workshops for the public, with recent topics including shadow work and self-hypnosis. "Bringing this stuff online lowers the barrier to entry cost-wise and time-wise," says Pelizzon. "It also gives them enough of a taste with a practitioner to know if they may want to invest a little more money or energy into working with that person."
New platform Begin to Heal shares this education-centric approach. "Until now, there was no single resource to educate yourself about the holistic health space," says founder Pooja Khanna, a former business strategist who discovered disciplines like acupuncture, spiritual coaching, and hypnotherapy while healing from adrenal fatigue. So she decided to create that service herself, enlisting a crew of licensed, New York City-based practitioners—over 200 of them across 12 disciplines—to write 300 articles, create 100 online courses, and record 200 guided meditations that can be accessed for $10 a month.
Begin to Heal users can also book one-on-one virtual or in-person sessions with the practitioners at a discount (and browse reviews to see who would be a good fit) , and a free concierge service is available to help connect customers with the healers who are best suited to their needs. "We do one-hour sessions with each practitioner before bringing them onto our platform and check their licenses and degrees," says Khanna, who notes that Begin to Heal is on track to expand from New York City to six other markets by 2021.
Still another subset of holistic health startups are focusing solely on the discovery and booking process. One example is WellSet, a digital marketplace that connects practitioners with clients. Its founders—former architect and yoga instructor Tegan Bukowski, ex-Pinterest partner manager Hanna Madrigan, and former Manduka CEO Sky Meltzer—all came to the business with similar frustrations around finding wellness practitioners. "It's really hard to know what type of practitioner you need to go to in the first place, and then it’s really hard to find one that you trust that’s in your area and in your price point," says Bukowski. "Maybe you don’t want to ask your friends for help with your health issues or even tell your family—it can be a sensitive thing."
The WellSet team compares their service to AirBNB in that users can search for and book with practitioners free of charge, using filters such as discipline (e.g. acupuncturist, massage therapist, yoga instructor), area of expertise (e.g. gut health, skin concerns, stress and anxiety), location, price, and user ratings. About 300 of the initial 1,000 practitioners on the platform have been granted WellSet Select status, which means they underwent an intensive verification process that involved a background check (the same one Uber uses to vet its drivers), certification verification, and references from previous clients. The rest are "semi-curated," says Bukowski—basically, this means that they need submit an application and provide their credentials when signing up.
Along with this robust search functionality, WellSet users will also be able to browse practitioners via "circles," or lists of healers curated by brands, influencers, and wellness industry leaders. "Word of mouth is truly everything, and we wanted to take this idea and bring it online," says Madrigan. WellSet recently debuted in Los Angeles, and the brand has plans to expand nationwide soon with the help of a recent seven-figure fundraising round.
Making alternative practices part of the mainstream
When it beta-launches in January 2020, Wellness Official will provide a similar option for connecting practitioners and clients, but with a few key things that set it apart. "Wellness Official is a platform built by practitioners for practitioners," says founder Millana Snow, an energy healer and seasoned wellness entrepreneur who counts Roomi Founder Ajay Yadav, Princess Märtha Louise of Norway, and former My Fitness Pal VP Tara-Nicholle Nelson as members of Wellness Official's advisory board. "We focus on building a community and platform that supports practitioners’ all-around growth, so they can reach and book with customers locally and globally."
In addition to one-on-one sessions with clients, Wellness Official's digital platform will also connect practitioners with brands and studios for special events. Another point of difference is that it features an astounding range of healers. "We have over 140 modalities on our database—everyone from yoga teachers and naturopathic doctors to shamans and more," says Snow, who calls out Columbia Medical School adjunct professor and indigenous bone healer Ssanyu Birigwa as an example. At launch, each practitioner on Wellness Official will have been hand-selected by Snow and her London community director, Jasmin Harsono, from their personal circles. "Our customers are getting the same exact recommendations we make to our best friends and loved ones," Snow says, adding they've already created a background-check system for the next set of practitioners to be onboarded.
Even mainstream medical booking platforms are starting to integrate holistic practitioners into the mix. Qwell is one example—its curated network of providers is based solely on referrals from doctors, and founders Bertie and Rachel Bregman (both MDs) are bringing acupuncturists, massage therapists, yoga and meditation guides, Pilates instructors, and personal trainers onto the platform as it grows. "We plan to include our holistic practitioners in all of our more 'traditional' [provider] categories, so that in addition to being able to find a holistic provider on our 'Integrative Medicine' specialty page, you will also be able to find them on various other specialty pages like Family Medicine, Gynecology, and Psychiatry, to name a few," says Bertie. "We do that because, in our mind, 'holistic care' should be just that—holistic—and included in as many relevant categories as possible to allow as many people as possible to access that care."
While they're all approaching it from a different angle, each of these founders is hoping that their platform will help normalize holistic wellness. "A lot of people in the world don’t even realize there are alternatives [to western medicine]," says Bukowski. "I hope we’re able to bring these practices into the mainstream so people know they can take preventative action and have a healthier day-to-day life."
There's also a hope that as alternative health disciplines become more mainstream, so will an alternative vision for what the wellness industry can become—namely, one that's more inclusive and accessible to all. "Wellness becoming more digital means everyone can have a seat at the table, feel welcome, and enjoy it all together," says Snow. Pelizzon shares this vision. "I hope that we’re able to reach more people, diversify wellness, and make things a lot more affordable," she says. "I don’t think wellness is going anywhere any time soon—it's just going to be a more prismatic and dimensional space."
Hospitals are also getting a holistic makeover—pretty soon, they may look more like this integrative medical startup, which received $10 million in funding.
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