Did you know that May is Mental Health Awareness Month? This is an opportunity to look at the state of mental healthcare in the United States to identify trends and areas for improvement.
Despite Increased Demand, Behavioral Health Services Cut Back
Demand for behavioral health services has skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic. A new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), however, has found that some provider groups laid off staff or cut back on programs.
The GAO report referred to a 2020 survey by the National Council for Behavioral Health that found that 27 percent of 343 behavioral healthcare organizations cut back employees. Forty-five percent of the organizations cut some of their programs. The majority (65 percent) of organizations reported having to cancel, reschedule, or turn away patients in the summer of 2020, even as 52 percent reported an increase in demand.
Some providers have had to reduce inpatient beds to follow social distancing requirements. Others have had difficulty getting insurers to cover inpatient stays for patients with both physical and behavioral health diagnoses. While providers have tried to address these issues through telehealth visits or partnering with digital health resources that provide self-directed mental health resources to clients, it has not completely offset demand, especially for those who need in-person care.
Time to Rethink Physical and Behavioral Health Integration
Integrating primary care with behavioral health has been a goal and a challenge in healthcare for years. However, Ed Jones, PhD, senior vice president for the Institute for Health and Productivity Management, notes that the movement so far has not met the high expectations. In many cases, “integration” has been interchangeable with “coordination,” which doesn’t lead to much change. The same goes for collaboration and the patient-centered health home.
Instead, Jones suggests a model that leads to fundamental, transformational changes in primary or behavioral care. That model should target the failure of primary care to address health behaviors that affect chronic medical conditions associated with a majority of healthcare costs, along with the continued stigma of seeking help for mental health concerns. A new type of provider, which Jones calls the “primary care therapist,” can help address both the issue of behavior change and stigma. Therapists may work within primary care settings to help screen, counsel, and refer patients. The full article can be found at Behavioral Health Executive.
How Has Telehealth Affected Therapy During the Pandemic?
During the COVID-19 pandemic, infection control measures and the increased demand for mental health services has led many behavioral health providers to move to telehealth. Clinicians are attempting to address a backlog of appointments, while patients deal with long waitlists to see a provider. At Aspirus Wausau Hospital, the waiting period to see a psychiatrist is 8-12 weeks, and referrals have doubled over the last year. As more providers resume in-person services, there is hope that the backlogs will decline.
Increased demand and complex client needs have created challenges for behavioral health providers. Make your practice more efficient and improve client outcomes with BestNotes’ EHR solutions, customized to your unique needs. Contact BestNotes today to learn more and schedule a free demo.