Improving Mental Health Outcomes Through Proactive Care

By using proactive care approaches for mental health, we have a tremendous opportunity to provide better care, reduce costs, and improve quality of life for millions.

The emphasis on proactive care has been gaining momentum in recent years as the benefits of this approach become increasingly apparent. While proactive care has typically centered on the monitoring and early diagnosis of diseases and conditions such as cancer and diabetes, there is a significant opportunity to expand proactive care approaches into the domain of mental health.

Mental health issues are remarkably common. It has been estimated that 1 in 4 adults will receive a mental health diagnosis in their lifetime, and up to 1 in 5 children will receive a diagnosis in any given year. The World Health Organization estimated that mental health disorders cost the global economy approximately $1 trillion each year in lost productivity. For the nearly 50 million Americans currently living with mental illness, a significant portion of this cost can be avoided through earlier diagnosis and preventive treatment. By using proactive care approaches for mental health, we have a tremendous opportunity to provide better care, reduce costs, and improve quality of life for millions.

Historically, mental and physical health have been viewed as wholly separate disciplines. Electronic records from mental health providers and those from primary care providers (PCP) caring for the same individual have been difficult to share. When a PCP is treating a person’s physical health and wants to make a referral for mental health services to treat conditions like depression and anxiety, it can be similarly cumbersome and challenging to find an in-network provider, as many psychiatrists do not accept insurance.

Another barrier to sufficient mental health care lies in the shortage of mental health providers across the country. According to a 2019 report from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), approximately 13.5 million adults reported an unmet need for mental health services in 2017 and one in five people encountered barriers to getting treatment. The AAMC also predicts a shortage of 3,400 psychiatrists by 2032. Today, PCPs are the acting gatekeepers of mental health treatment, and they need more support and more resources.

One way to do this is by having consultations with experts available to PCPs so that they can discuss a patient’s symptoms and potential treatment plans. Improving outcomes starts with making mental health care accessible and integrated alongside physical health care. Coordinating with the PCP’s workflow is important so that an in-network mental health referral is as easy to get as other types of medical referrals.

Quartet Health has seen this approach speed up the time it takes for patients to be seen by the right type of mental health care provider, whether that is a psychiatrist, a social worker, or a psychologist. Quartet Health has found these improvements are largely due to better access to historical patient and network provider information, seamless communication, and forward-looking treatment plans.

The physical and mental health divide in our healthcare system is not obviously narrowing, especially as Americans resist seeking treatment in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The stigma around mental health diagnoses can also be a barrier to patients receiving adequate care, so having care coordinators whose job is to help patients navigate their conditions and treatment plans is vital to ensuring optimal, whole person care.

If we look at the world of health as completely integrated, from the providers to the community to the home and ultimately to the patient, we can revolutionize how care is delivered. We have more health tools at our fingertips than ever before – looking into the future, the key is to bring together the data, the professionals, and the supports into a unified picture. Bringing this information together and creating a streamlined process to analyze and act on it through next generation infrastructure will allow organizations across the healthcare industry to manage patients across the full spectrum of their needs, whether relating to physical or mental health.

Author Adam Sabloff is founder and CEO of VirtualHealth, provider of HELIOS, the leading SaaS care management platform, serving more than 9 million members across the U.S. Prior to VirtualHealth, Sabloff served as VP of Development and Chief Marketing Officer for Midtown Equities, a $7 billion real estate, media and aviation conglomerate, where he also oversaw its technology subsidiary, Midtown Technologies.