Behavioral health top priority for employers

April 12, 2017

With a growing need for services, nearly nine in 10 employers cite behavioral health as an important priority in Willis Towers Watson survey.

Behavioral health issues are common among employees, and they can have major impact on employees, their family, and the workplace, according to findings from a new survey.

A Willis Towers Watson 2017 Behavioral Health Survey, fielded in October through November 2016, showed s 88% of U.S. employers say behavioral health is an important priority over the next three years. The 314 employers that responded to survey were midsize to large companies across a variety of industries and represent 3.9 million employees.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 6% of American adults face major depression each year, and more people died of opioid abuse than gun-related homicide in 2016, according to recent CDC data. One in 68 children has autism, according to the CDC.

Levin-Scherz

“Employers are interested in providing access to care that can lower the toll of behavioral health disorders,” says Jeff Levin-Scherz, senior consultant the co-leader of North American Health Management Practice at Willis Towers Watson.

Among employers’ top priorities over the next three years are:

  • Locating more timely and effective treatment of behavioral health issues (63%).

  • Integrating behavioral health case management with medical and disability case management (61%) for a more holistic view of employee health.

  • Providing better support for complex behavioral health conditions (56%).

  • Expanding access to care (52%).

The survey also found that employers intend to address the root causes of workplace behavioral health issues:

·      36% have already assessed and taken steps to reduce stress and improve resiliency.

·      47% are planning or considering action over the next three years.

·      28% already provide educational programs about the warning signs of behavioral health issues or distress.

·      41% are planning or considering such programs over the next three years.

·      25% already provide educational programs to reduce the stigma of behavioral health conditions.

·      35% are planning or considering doing so over the next three years.

“Employers have heightened expectations for better access, better navigation, and better integration among different vendors,” Levin-Scherz says. “Penetration of digital solutions, including virtual care, is likely to increase. At a time when there is increasing public attention on various behavioral health issues, including opioid addiction, stress, and autism, managed care executives can learn that companies are taking action and responsibility to seriously address behavior health issues.”

Managed care executives, as the supervisors of operations of healthcare systems, need to deliver services to meet these evolving expectations of behavioral health services in ways that improve health outcomes and reduce costs, according to Levin-Scherz.

Next: Telemedicine findings

 

 

Telemedicine findings

More employers will provide coverage for treatment of behavioral health issues through telemedicine for convenience and to improve access to mental health specialists that might not be available locally for in-person consultations, according to the survey. 

“Telemedicine, which often includes video as well as audio, is becoming commonplace for general medical concerns,” Levin-Scherz says.

The surveys suggest that 93% of employers will offer a telemedicine option for all health issues, not just behavioral health, over the next two years. 

“Telemedicine has come a bit later to behavioral health-and our survey shows about a quarter of employers now offer behavioral health telemedicine, and a total of almost 75% are offering or considering offering it by 2018,” Levin-Scherz says.

Telemedicine has special promise in behavioral health because there is a pressing shortage of therapists, according to the Washington Postand many patients actually like the convenience, and also the anonymity of having access to telemedicine to meet their behavioral health needs.

“More employers will provide coverage for treatment of behavioral health issues through telemedicine for convenience and to improve access to mental health specialists that might not be available locally for in-person consultations,” Levin-Scherz says.

Attention to apps

Employers are showing more interest in mobile apps to help employees manage behavioral health needs, according to the survey. The percentage of employers planning to include mobile apps in their service offerings for employees is expected to grow. Examples of specific apps include:

• Stress reduction or resiliency: 11% of employers offer today, increasing to 38% over the next three years.

• Anxiety: 7% today, increasing to 31% over the next three years.

• Sleep disorders: 5% today, increasing to 27% over the next three years

The root cause

The survey also found that employers intend to address the root causes of workplace behavioral health issues. More than one third (36%) of employers have already assessed and taken steps to reduce stress and improve resiliency; another 47% are planning or considering action over the next three years. More than one quarter (28%) already provide educational programs about the warning signs of behavioral health issues or distress; another 41% are planning or considering such programs over the next three years. One quarter (25%) already provide educational programs to reduce the stigma of behavioral health conditions; another 35% planning or considering such programs over the next three years.