Overcoming the barriers to integrating digitally enabled mental health care

The number of patients needing access to mental health services is growing, but there continues to be a shortage of healthcare professionals able to meet this demand.

Nearly 40% of American adults reported symptoms of depression and anxiety in 2021, far more than 10% who reported those symptoms just three years earlier. And in 2020, 71% of parents told researchers they believe the COVID-19 pandemic had an impact on their child’s mental health.

Behavioral health integration (BHI) will be essential to alleviate the nation’s mental health crisis, and the integration of digitally enabled care into BHI can help clinicians reach even more people in need of care, AMA experts said. and Manatt Health during a recent AMA webinar.

They discussed the opportunities and limitations of using technology to support BHI, as well as solutions to help address areas that prevent more doctors from adopting BHI. The information is explored even further in the joint organizations report, “Accelerating and Improving Integration of Behavioral Health Through Digitally Enabled Care: Opportunities and Challenges” (PDF).

Leaders from three other organizations shared how they implemented digitally enabled BHI across the country.

“All stakeholders across the board … really need to work together to make digitally enabled BHI a standard across the country,” Christopher Botts, AMA senior manager, support and payment, said during the webinar. ‚ÄúThere is also a general recognition that digital tools … [can] accelerate the adoption of BHI and help remove the barriers that have existed in recent years. “

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During the webinar, Botts discussed the opportunities and limitations of using technology to support BHI.

Among the opportunities:

  • Better patient management and treatment.
  • Support for welfare integration.
  • Limited care fragmentation.
  • Value generated for patients and suppliers.

Additionally, the AMA Return Health Framework can help measure the BHI value for your practice.

Among the limitations:

  • Technology will not completely replace in-person interactions or patient assessments.
  • There is still no solid clinical or economic evidence to support important regulatory and coverage decisions.
  • The technology within BHI is not clinically appropriate or available to all people.
  • Patients, doctors, and healthcare professionals may not be able to use technology effectively based on personal preferences, as well as potential gaps in digital literacy and / or broadband access.

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How telemedicine can improve integration into mental health care

Jared Augenstein, The director of Manatt Health shared ways for various groups in the health system to address the gaps that hinder the widespread adoption of BHI.

For example, medical practices and health systems can:

  • Increase diagnosis and treatment rates by incorporating evidence-based digital solutions into standard workflows.
  • Implement technologies that facilitate care coordination and enable highly collaborative care.

Health plans and coverage programs can:

  • Expand coverage and fair payment with a margin for all stakeholders using BHI templates.
  • Consider how and when to apply cost sharing for integrated services, delivered in person or via telemedicine.
  • Minimize or eliminate usage management practices for BHI services.

Federal and state policy makers can:

  • Work with health plans and coverage programs to limit usage management review practices, enforce behavioral health equality laws, and strengthen network adequacy regulations.
  • Increase federal funding with the goal of growing the behavioral health workforce, particularly for those exercising in disadvantaged areas.

Telemedicine is critical to the future of healthcare, which is why the AMA continues to lead the charge of aggressively expanding telemedicine policy, research and resources to ensure sustainability of medical practice and fair payment .

Check out the BHI Collaboration Compendium on Behavioral Health Integration, which provides healthcare organizations with a proven path to deliver integrated behavioral health care and ensure they have the latest and most actionable information available.

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