2019 will bring a transformation in the delivery of mental healthcare

A new approach is required to remove the barriers preventing patients from accessing mental health services, including a shortage of clinicians and stigma concerns

Today, approximately 1 in 5 adults, or about 44 million people, suffer from mental illness in the United States, and this number is expected to increase in the years ahead. At the same time, there is a growing shortage of mental health providers and resources to treat these individuals, and the gap between demand and supply is continuing to grow.

A report published by the National Council for Behavioral Health estimates that the shortage will be between 6,100 and 15,600 for psychiatrists alone by 2025. This creates an enormous strain across the entire health care system, most notably for emergency departments, primary care physicians, and underserved rural areas.

Primary care physicians often serve as a gateway for patients with mental health needs, but the appropriate resources to deliver treatment are not always available within a primary care setting. According to Health Affairs, two out three primary care physicians reported difficulty referring patients for mental health care—more than twice the number reported for any other specialty.

More than 6.5 million rural Americans have some type of mental illness. However, a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine revealed that 65 percent of rural counties don’t have a psychiatrist, 47 percent don’t have a psychologist, and 81 percent don’t have a psychiatric nurse practitioner. Without access, it is not even possible to evaluate mental health services as part of a preventative care plan.

Additionally, mental health is still a very uncomfortable topic for many populations, and stigma and misunderstanding have led to insufficient attention being paid to the issue. For example, employers are losing out on $225.5 billion a year due to reduced productivity related to anxiety, stress, depression, and substance use disorder. Corporations will continue to look at mental health coverage as a way to reduce costs and increase efficiencies.

A New Approach: Evidence-Based Digital Mental Health Platforms

The National Council for Behavioral Health Medical Director Institute has concluded that the traditional model of psychiatric care delivery is unsustainable. In 2019, we will witness a new wave of digital care solutions that are filling a massive void in the market by transforming care delivery. Designed to bridge the current gaps commonly experienced while seeking care, digital mental health platforms effectively remove the barriers that prevent patients from accessing services, including a lack of clinicians, limited transportation, privacy and stigma concerns—expanding access to care while providing effective, accessible and affordable mental health resources.

Specialized in-home programs optimize resources, reduce the cost of services and improve patient outcomes. Digital mental health platforms can also automate the triage process of care delivery for given populations and enable health systems to focus on the patients who require face-to-face treatment. Additionally, they can be used to improve early identification of at-risk patients and quickly provide an appropriate plan for treatment and support.

As a result, this digital care model is expected to fundamentally change the way healthcare is delivered across the care continuum and play a critical role in helping payers and providers distribute convenient, outcome-based, patient-focused care across the mental healthcare spectrum, including hard-to-reach and high-cost behavioral health populations. Patients will receive the right care, at the right time, in the right setting, contributing to an improved patient experience, lower costs and better outcomes.

Providers will require evidence-based solutions that are built on scientific knowledge, clinical expertise and experience. As offerings expand and evolve, the value of evidence-based digital mental health solutions will be increasingly valued by providers and payers, and online digital therapy will fill the care gap to provide the comprehensive mental health services that are so desperately needed in the United States.

Looking forward, we will see artificial intelligence and advanced machine learning play an even larger role in helping to create more customized solutions that continually improve each patient’s experience by making it more tailored and effective with each use. Some digital mental health platforms are already using these technologies for the measurement and collection of real-time data such as patient engagement, utilization, outcomes and user experience, which can be turned into actionable insights and help inform better decision-making.

Leaders in this field have reported an 80% treatment completion rate, a 60% plus recovery rate, and a 45% reduction in therapeutic costs. This will be a critical market segment to watch in 2019 and beyond.

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