Anthem Executive Shares Tele-Behavioral Ambitions, Data Priorities

Slowly but surely, insurers appear to be shifting from using process measures to outcome measures when it comes to assessing quality in behavioral health care. Now, it seems the coronavirus could help accelerate that movement, thanks in large part to the momentum the virus has given telehealth.

At least, Stephen Friedoff — SVP of clinical operations and products at Anthem’s Diversified Business Group — suggested as much during a recent webinar hosted by TripleTree, an independent merchant bank focused on mergers and acquisitions, financial restructuring and principal investing services.

Indianapolis-based Anthem (NYSE: ANTM) is one of the largest health insurance plan providers in the U.S. Plus, it owns Beacon Health Options, a behavioral health organization that serves more than 36 million people across all 50 states.

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While many providers have speculated what tele-behavioral health coverage will look like post-pandemic, Friedoff provided a preview of Anthem’s plans during the webinar.

“The impact of telehealth on behavioral health is probably here to stay,” Friedoff said. “[The coronavirus] accelerated a trend that was already taking off. And to a large extent, it probably enabled a lot of providers, especially in behavioral health, to make that leap — really because they had to.”

Friedoff says he’s still seeing two thirds of behavioral health care delivered via telehealth even now, as more and more patients are regaining the option to receive care in person. While it’s unclear what those numbers will look like for Anthem post-pandemic, the insurer is actively looking for ways to improve upon the process.

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Specifically, Anthem is developing less “clunky,” more “seamless” telehealth options, Friedoff said. Plus, ones that improve the company’s data-capturing capabilities, putting more weight on outcomes generated by behavioral health providers.

“One of the things that we’re doing right now because of … the feedback we received is … beta testing a low- or potentially no-cost telehealth platform that we can potentially provide to both physical health and behavioral health providers that are in value-based relationships,” Friedoff said.

So far, the behavioral and physical health providers testing the platform have reported “pretty positive feedback” in terms of ease of use. The hope is that this tool and others like it would offer a value-add to providers, while also improving data-sharing to support value-based agreements and quality outcomes, Friedoff said.

“What you can pull out of claims data is just inadequate, particularly for behavioral health care,” he said during the webinar. “Patient-reported outcomes would certainly be the ideal. But, one, you’ve got to have the connection to an electronic health record to adequately capture this information, and, two, it’s got to be in a format that you can extract.”

Anthem has been exploring using longitudinal tracking of self-reported measures such as a PHQ-9 or GAD-7 to measure patient progress. And already, it’s seen positive results with a partner in terms of depression and anxiety measures among patients.

Overall, improved data sharing will be key to relationships between payers and behavioral health providers in the future, Friedoff said.

“[We’re interested] not just in length-of-stay, but what’s the readmission rate?” Friedoff said. “What are we seeing in terms of weekly weight gain, quality of life measures and depression measures? Again, a lot of [those] are things that we can’t necessarily get out of claims data. We can get it by utilization review, but ideally, in a future state, we would get it through much, much better data sharing.”

Telehealth could be the key to making that data sharing possible.

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