While the pandemic is subsiding, provider organizations can continue to focus on expanding behavioral health service access through telehealth.
Recently, there have been several encouraging trends related to the COVID-19 pandemic, from rising vaccinations to declining case counts, but the damage from this outbreak is likely to linger for years.
One area acutely aware of the impact of COVID-19 is the behavioral health services space, which experienced heightened attention as people suffered from greater levels of stress, anxiety, and depression during the pandemic.
Urvashi Patel, Ph.D., is the chief analytics officer at Brighton Health Plan Solutions, a healthcare enablement company based in New York. Patel previously served as associate vice president of population health analytics at Montefiore Health System.
Patel said that there was a shortage of behavioral health workers prior to the pandemic and that the COVID-19 crisis has only underscored the importance of adequately supporting mental health services. She added that the need for greater access to pediatric behavioral health services will be evident over the next year.
When asked what hospital executives can do to address the issue, Patel said provider organizations can continue to focus on expanding behavioral health service access through telehealth.
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Patel added that telemedicine apps that offer mental health services through text or chat features can provide convenient access for patients and lead to improved appointment compliance.
Hospitals and health systems should also explore models of integrated care that coordinate treatment with behavioral health specialists and primary care doctors.
"This can be in a couple of different forms; one is a co-location model that has a behavioral health specialist located at the primary care site, or another is a collaborative care model where the behavioral health specialist is part of the team managing individual patients," Patel said. "I've done work in the collaborative care model area, which has reduced patients' symptoms that have depression. Hospitals and health systems may want to consider this model because so much behavioral health takes place in the primary care setting."
She also said that another opportunity exists for health systems in states where advanced practice nurses can practice psychiatry on their own, noting that tapping into this workforce can meet patient demand.
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While there has been a significant utilization drop-off from the historical highs telehealth hit last year during the start of the pandemic, Patel said that behavioral health utilization through virtual care has only seen a slight decline.
Patel added that behavioral health services might have a longer staying power when delivered through telehealth and could aid in removing the stigma for patients when seeking mental health treatment.
"[Patients] are able to access care very differently than they had in the past and I think the pandemic has certainly accelerated that utilization," Patel said.
Jack O'Brien is the Content Team Lead and Finance Editor at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.