While the nation has started to see the importance of behavioral health care, it still has a long way to go when it comes to making behavioral services as accessible and comprehensive as those in physical health care.
“We’re in the early innings when it comes to access and availability,” Rob Marsh, senior vice president and chief operating officer at Kindred Behavioral Health (KBH), said. “To take the [baseball] metaphor one step further, I think we’re still in the parking lot when it comes to collaboration and cohesiveness of the behavioral systems.”
Marsh made those comments during a recent webinar hosted by the national law firm Foley & Lardner LLP. During the conversation, he identified continuity of care as a major weak spot for the industry, especially when compared to its physical health counterpart.
“If a person goes into a med-surg or short-term acute care hospital with some type of cardiac event, they’ve got cardiac care, cardiac rehab, home health and an entire ecosystem that supports them,” Marsh said. “The systems that we have within behavioral health are so disjointed, with very little continuity between one level of care and another, and that’s where patients really get lost.”
Some of that disconnect can be attributed to lack of federal support.
Take technology, for example, which makes care coordination much easier to accomplish. While acute care organizations nationwide get subsidies to launch EMRs, behavioral health facilities don’t have the same luxury.
“It just goes to show you that there’s a lot of work yet to be done when it comes to behavioral health and the application of technology,” Marsh said. “The majority of providers are still using paper charts in order to track the treatment of patients throughout their care experience.”
The problem is paper charts make it much harder to share information and keep track of patients. Yet, successfully tracking that care experience is key to improving behavioral health care delivery and outcomes in the long-run.
As such, KBH is leaning into tech to improve upon its internal processes. As Kindred Healthcare’s relatively new behavioral business, KBH is working with an outside organization to develop a care manager module.
“In that module, we’ll be able to track the patient’s utilization of services,” Marsh said. “When we see that the patient … hasn’t refilled a necessary prescription, then our care management team can engage the patient and find out if there are resource issues or if there are problems accessing the medications.”
The goal is to prevent patients from falling through the cracks and to give them a better shot at long-term recovery. While the KBH example is internal, tech can help behavioral health providers improve external care coordination, too.
Sarah Ahmad — senior vice president of product innovation and head of Magellan Health Studio — pointed to integrated care between therapists and primary care physicians as an example.
“You’re providing that licensed clinical practitioner to the primary care physician, but also providing a care manager to the member or patient,” Ahmad said during the webinar. “They interact through telemed … to get the support that member or patient may need throughout their care. … Having that telemedicine added into that interaction really helps with the engagement.”
However, she noted that the behavioral health industry also still has a ways to go when it comes to technology engagement.
“I still think we’re in the first inning with regards to engagement,” she said.