Photo: Susan Morse/HFN
CHICAGO – About half of the population in the country live in areas that have a lack of access to behavioral healthcare, said Taft Parsons III, vice president and chief psychiatric officer, CVS Health.
Dr. Zenobia Brown agreed that access for behavior and mental health services has been an issue before the pandemic.
“(It’s) been an iceberg for many years,” Brown said. “Even at the top it never felt that access was appropriate. After COVID, it just felt like the entire iceberg was bigger.”
What this did was to force providers to integrate technology to do more with less, said Brown, who is senior vice president of Population Health Care Management and associate chief medical officer for Northwell Health Solutions.
Now that the Public Health Emergency is ending on May 11, “so much wants to slide back,” Brown said.
However, as behavioral health providers dig out from under the pandemic, they’re assessing what’s worked to strategically move forward. One barrier to returning to a pre-pandemic way of doing business is lack of staff.
“You can’t just hire more people,” said moderator Tjasa Zajc, host of the Faces of Digital Health podcast.
Zajc and panelists discussed what’s next during the Views from the Top session, “Can Technology and Innovation Advance Behavioral Healthcare?”
Surprisingly, remote care works for individuals seeking care for behavioral and mental health issues, panelists said. This despite remote care in mental health being hampered by the ability for patients to have a private place in their home to talk about difficult issues.
Engagement is better with a telehealth visit, said Marti Taylor, CEO OneFifteen, a company that treats addiction. During the pandemic, OneFifteen pivoted to a more hybrid model, partnering with a community health worker or care advocate for treatment, Taylor said. They added telehubs throughout the Dade County, Ohio region in places such as churches, libraries and the public defender’s office.
Parsons said the assumption has been that those over the age 65 were not going to want to use this technology, Parsons said of telehealth. The biggest hurdle was the first visit. After that, for 50% of folks over age 65, this was their preference, he said.
CVS found most consumers wanted to go back to the office for medical care, but this didn’t apply to behavioral healthcare.
Sean Stickle, COO, National Alliance on Mental Illness said there were 650 NAMI facilities across the country that suddenly closed and switched to Zoom during the pandemic.
“Access to telehealth has allowed me to find people for access to support,” Stickle said. “The big advantage of the technology is to build community.”
Not surprisingly, as in other discussions of healthcare access, AI is seen as a lifeline to deal with lack of staff.
“There’s tremendous potential for AI to be applied to behavioral health as in other areas of healthcare,” Parsons said.
Email the writer: SMorse@himss.org
Zenobia Brown will offer more detail in the HIMSS23 session “Views from the Top: Can Technology and Innovation Advance Behavioral Healthcare?” It is scheduled for Tuesday, April 18, at 10:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. CT at the South Building, Level 1, room S100 B.