Amid the COVID-19 emergency, many behavioral health stakeholders have touted the nation’s increased focus on behavioral health as a silver lining of the pandemic. Count Shana Hoffman, president and CEO of New Directions, among that group.
“Coming out of this, I think we’re going to really think differently as a country about behavioral health — and think about it holistically as part of preventative care in the same way that we would think about measuring someone’s vital signs at a [primary care] visit,” Hoffman said.
She made those comments earlier this month during the Going Digital: Behavioral Health Tech Summit 2021, a virtual event put on by a group of behavioral health entrepreneurs, investors, technologists and designers.
During her panel, Hoffman predicted that the pandemic would help accelerate and improve the nation’s approach to behavioral health care, especially when it comes to mainstreaming and measuring treatment.
“From an industry perspective, and then within our own organization, there’s just a tremendous amount of excitement we have about our next chapter here,” Hoffman said.
Founded about 25 years ago, New Directions is owned by Blue Cross Blue Shield plans. It provides managed behavioral health services, an employee assistance program (EAP), a student assistance program, organizational consulting and health coaching to a number of employers and labor groups. In the past five years, the company has more than doubled its membership, currently serving more than 16 million people.
Hoffman joined New Directions about six months ago, coming to the position after serving as the COO of the tri-state Mid-Atlantic region at Beacon Health Options, a managed behavioral health care organization owned by the insurance giant Anthem (NYSE: ANTM).
“What I’m most excited about is the team that we’ve been able to assemble to build on [our] 25 years of experience,” Hoffman said. “[We’ve been] able to bring a new [leadership] team to the table, … with a lot of expertise, both in behavioral health and then more broadly in healthcare, … that can bring a lot from a measurement-based care perspective.”
Going forward, measurement-based care is a must for the behavioral health industry at large, she said, adding that it’s important to measure everything from the demographics of the clinicians serving diverse areas to the outcomes providers generate for different types of patients.
Already, amid the pandemic, Hoffman has seen an increased focus on data among the Blues plans New Directions works with, she told panel attendees.
Specifically, she described a shift in how plans are thinking about the overall mental health of their member populations. Rather than waiting for beneficiaries to self-identify their need for behavioral health services, more plans are looking at integrated ways to leverage data to identify those people who may be struggling but have not yet received the behavioral health treatment they need.
“We’ve partnered with our plans in some really cool programs around cancer and pain programs, where, based on the data, we can know who may be in need of services,” Hoffman said. “We see high degrees of overlap with chronic disease, for example, with behavioral health, so it’s just a really data-driven approach … to drive those outcomes.”
She used SUD treatment as another example. Amid the pandemic, many patients dropped out of their treatment plans, and New Directions has been able to use claims data to identify and attempt to re-engage those beneficiaries.
In other words, plans are taking a more proactive, integrated approach to care as of late, making behavioral health a priority, rather than an afterthought, which has long been the case for payers in the space.
“It really can’t be seen as a secondary thing that is smaller dollars, so therefore, doesn’t matter as much,” Hoffman said. “There’s been this realization that [behavioral health] … is so much more of a driver of overall health outcomes and health care costs more broadly.”
That realization has gone beyond the plans themselves, even reaching their large employer customers, who are also becoming more proactive in their behavioral health approaches. In fact, Hoffman said employer clients are even asking the plans to lead with their behavioral health strategy in some cases.
“[It] is just really unique if you think about … the evolution that behavioral health has gone through over time,” she told panel attendees.
In five years, Hoffman predicts that evolution will continue, with both integrated approaches and measurement-based care becoming more of the norm.
“There’s going to be this complete realization that [behavioral and physical health] are inextricably linked, and that will just continue over the next five years,” she said, also stressing the importance of data in ensuring treatment, outcomes and payments are best aligned to benefit providers and patients.