Amid the coronavirus, behavioral health providers are making better use of technology to dispense services than ever before, and autism treatment providers are no exception. Not only is doing so integral for improved service delivery, but it can come in handy as providers continue to expand their operations in a growing market estimated to be worth over $4.5 billion by 2026.
But how can providers in a traditionally brick-and-mortar service sector best leverage technology to achieve scale, stay current with their service offerings and potentially attract outside business interest?
Cheryl Michael, the chief product officer of the applied behavior analysis (ABA) software services company CentralReach, discussed the answers to those questions — and the importance of finding them — during a recent Q&A at the third annual Autism Investor Summit, a three-day online event that brought together various industry leaders, investors, providers, advocates, legislators, payers, patients and researchers.
“In many ways, [the pandemic] made us all look at how technology could support not only the delivery of services, but … the information that would be critical to managing the practice and planning ahead as you resume services,” Michael said. “I think we were all pleased to see that … ABA proved to be quite resilient.”
ABA is largely considered to be the gold standard of care among professionals and service providers in the industry. Michael said the ability for providers to integrate with different technology solutions becomes increasingly important as they grow.
“Whether that’s through mergers or acquisitions, you will need to both have a handle on the data that drives your business, but also potentially be able to integrate [it] into other [areas] like HR [and] financial systems,” Michael added.
The recent event was put on by Sara Litvak and Ronit Molko, the respective CEOs of the Behavioral Health Center of Excellence and Empowering Synergy. Both Litvak and Molko, who are based in the Los Angeles-area, are co-founders of the Autism Investor Summit.
During the panel, Michael discussed technology’s role in the transition to value-based care, which experts say is where the health care industry is headed in the years to come. The payment model reimburses providers based on the quality of outcomes they deliver for patients as opposed to the services they render, which is the case in the current fee-for-service model.
Technology can help providers crunch numbers and quantitatively assess the quality of care patients receive, making it easier for them to transition to value-based models, which more payers have also started leaning into.
Additionally, studies have shown value-based care to be beneficial in bringing down the traditionally high care costs for children with autism, as well as in improving care coordination.
“We know that growing regulatory oversight driven by increased Medicaid and commercial payer coverage is a reality,” Michael said. “This is a trend that we’ve seen across all of health care as we move away from the fee-for-service [model].”
Michael said it is imperative for ABA providers to stay ahead of the value-based care curve by paying attention to quality care and other outcomes measures sooner rather than later. Currently, measuring treatment outcomes for children with autism can be challenging, as symptoms and progress are so highly variable for each child.
“I think payers, especially in ABA, [are] trying to come up with … those quality measures,” Michael said. “As providers, you need to engage, you need to be front and center [learning]: What are the data elements that need to be collected? … What are the measures for success, What are … the standards? … [And] what assessments should be adopted?”
Technology can also be a useful tool to help providers improve and streamline their operations, a topic also discussed on the panel.
In part because of federal waivers allowing more telehealth services, virtual behavioral health care has soared since the onset of the pandemic. And like others in the space, ABA providers turned to virtual care services when social distancing measures were enacted nationwide.
Michael noted that among providers, telehealth “basically went from nothing to a swift increase.”
With positive patient outcomes resulting from virtual care, in addition to more payers covering services, she said she believes telehealth should become the norm within the industry.
“We recognize that practices are looking for ways to operate more efficiently, optimize [a return on investment] and provide superior services and outcomes to their learners,” Michael said. “Technology continues to evolve and evolve rapidly, and the healthcare sector will continue to look for ways to leverage these capabilities to drive efficiency.”