Four Ways Digital Resources Can Help You Reimagine Your Behavioral Health Service Line

Amanda DeMano, Vice President, AVIA


“Normal” industry economics would tell you that the combination of increasing demand and reduced supply make a ripe target for new entrants to expand services, capture market share, and produce a quick profit. In an already complex healthcare industry, behavioral health service expansion has a number of unique hurdles, but digital innovation and new, evolving reimbursement opportunities make it possible for health systems to re-imagine and take advantage of unique market conditions. Consider these four solutions to optimize behavioral health services and identify how digital resources can enable a health system to strategically transform this service line:

  • Improved Access – The nation faces a severe shortage of behavioral health practitioners. 27% of metropolitan counties and 65% of non-metropolitan counties do not have a psychiatrist. So it is no surprise that only 43% of adults with mental health needs, 10% of adults with substance use disorder (SUD), and 7% of adults with co-occuring conditions received necessary services in 2018. The treatment gap is staggering. COVID-19 is driving an even stronger demand with an estimated 56% of adults reporting the pandemic has negatively impacted their mental health. How do we get help to those who need and are ready for it? The current answer for most health systems is calling for an ambulatory appointment that is scheduled weeks out. Online platforms and services have become available to add to your health system’s capacity. These digital tools make a range of services available on demand to provide or complement health practitioner provided services, and there are reimbursement models for them.  
  • Diversified Services – In Apple’s early years, its market was computer hardware and software. As technology evolved, so did its business model. Now we buy content like music, books, television, movies and more from Apple. Health systems have a similar opportunity to diversify their products — to offer goods and services outside their four walls and to construct a hybrid experience that blends physical and virtual solutions to broaden behavioral health offering in their service area. Behavioral health is a multi-faceted problem that can’t be solved with ED visits, ambulatory encounters and inpatient admissions. Technology is currently available to help health systems extend their ability to remotely serve patients with behavioral health needs along the spectrum of their patient journey. Consider solutions that allow consumers/patients to make connections with peers, remotely monitor and check in on their recovery progress, screen for ongoing risk, provide education and support for self-management, and proactively intervene in crisis.  
  • Expanded Number of “Right Doors” – In our current COVID-19 world, grocery and other consumer retail stores have closed normal entrances, reconfigured their exits, and changed their aisles to accommodate cart disinfecting, social distancing and total occupancy. To me as a consumer, it always feels like I’m going the wrong way or entering the wrong door. To potential patients or consumers of behavioral health services, there are a million “wrong doors” to accessing the care they need. Imagine a scenario where a patient that survived a heart attack has a moment of clarity that she needs help for her substance use disorder and makes a mention to the cardiologist at a follow up visit. Is your cardiologist armed with information and services that will leverage this moment and result in a long term positive outcome for the patient? Most likely, the cardiologist is a “wrong door.” They might make a routine referral to a behavioral health colleague, unintentionally apply the burden of scheduling the appointment with the patient, and then make the patient wait weeks for an appointment. In this situation, we’ve missed our real opportunity to intervene and change the patient’s outcome. Giving your own clinicians access to refer patients in real-time to services and/or community resource referral platforms will make every door the right door.
  • Mitigated Privacy Concerns – Walking out of a major city hotel, you can typically find a number of available taxis. So why are riders pulling out their phones to schedule an Uber or Lyft? Riders want a sense of control. They are seemingly willing to sacrifice their anonymity for a personalized experience that they themselves can manage. Implementing tools that provide consumers/patients control will strengthen their engagement, improve outcomes, and help you tackle privacy concerns of potential consumers. No-show rates in traditional, office-based behavioral health appointments average 37%. Organizations that have implemented telemedicine solutions have seen these rates drop by 50%. This suggests that removing barriers associated with privacy and stigma of going to a physical location for care drives patient engagement.    

Want to take advantage of current market conditions and digitally transform your approach to behavioral health? AVIA can help. Contact us today.