Investment in Clinical Standards and Technology Needed to Scale Autism Care to Next Level, Executives Say

The evolution of the behavioral health industry has been spurred on not just by more people wanting care, but the advancement of technologies to better enable access to services.

This is happening as health care moves toward a value-based payment system, which many in the industry feel can be aided by the adoption of new technologies to streamline patient services and business operations.

For Caravel Autism Health CEO Mike Miller, the landscape for autism care can currently be described as “Autism 2.0.” In Miller’s view, Autism 2.0 is being propelled by new technologies and the addition of new board certified behavioral analysts (BCBAs) into the workforce, which are scaling up service delivery in a way unlike the past.


At the inaugural INVEST Conference, which was held in Chicago by Behavioral Health Business on October 14, Miller talked about the progression over the last several years of the autism care market.

“If I think back just five years, it was ‘1.0,’” Miller told INVEST attendees during a panel discussion on trends and opportunities in the autism care sector. “It was a lot of really passionate clinicians that were doing incredible work — and still are doing incredible work — but doing it in a single site with a constraint of fewer BCBAs.”

Since the 2010s, the number of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has climbed 10%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Nationwide, 1 in 54 American children have been diagnosed with ASD, with increasing rates driving the growth of a domestic care market valued at $2.1 billion, according to financial data publisher Research and Markets.

Caravel Autism Health CEO Mike Miller
Caravel Autism Health CEO Mike Miller

Rajat Bangar is a managing director of New York-based health care investment bank Edgemont Partners, which was a previous investor in the Center for Autism and Related Disorders, the largest autism care provider in the world. Bangar also spoke at the INVEST panel on the autism care market, where he described “Autism 2.0” as being scaled up enough to have more personnel on hand to meet the growing demand for services.

“If you’re investing into the sector today, do you have a leadership team in that provider that is thinking about these things?” Bangar asked during the event. “There is a huge need for autistic kids and their family members.”

Bangar feels that providers — especially smaller ones — must invest in technologies to assist them with data collection for the assessment of treatment outcomes. As the larger trend in value-based reimbursement makes its way into the autism care sector, he said that smaller providers should have the tools necessary to track and demonstrate effective treatment outcomes with their clientele.

“For the smaller providers, my advice to them is to at least invest in the technology to collect the data,” Bangar said. “A lot of providers are still not even doing that. So to be positioned for that environment, at least invest in and start collecting the data.”

To assist with that, Bangar recommended that smaller providers establish partnerships with various entities that can help establish value-based standards of quality autism care, which can thus be tracked and assessed. As examples, he cited partnerships announced this year between Magellan Healthcare and Invo Healthcare, as well as Aetna and Autism Comprehensive Educational Services (ACES) to do just that.

He noted that smaller providers, in particular, could benefit in this regard by joining industry organizations like the Council of Autism Service Providers (CASP).

Rajat Bangar, Managing Director at Edgemont Partners
Rajat Bangar, Managing Director at Edgemont Partners

“The larger providers are making those efforts, and I think you do need an industry body like CASP to lead some of the standardization,” Bangar said. “Many small providers are members of CASP. That’s a great resource and body to help guide them.”

The establishment of clinical standards is also needed to take autism care delivery to an even higher level, according to Miller.

“A select few are beginning to standardize treatment, and industry associations are coming around to accelerate that,” he told INVEST attendees.

Miller dubbed this next phase as “Autism 3.0,” which he described as building upon the autism care model currently prevalent throughout the industry, with clinical practices that have been tested and solidified.

“I think 3.0 is perfecting those clinical standards,” he said. “I do think it is reporting what you’re doing in the moment, each day. I do think machine learning has a big role in identifying the best pathways of care.”

Miller also said that a version of Autism 3.0 would be better equipped to meet patient needs in that it would provide them with new options for receiving care, such as through telehealth.

Although a number of children with autism suffer from sensory issues brought about by audio and visual stimuli, autism care — like many other areas of health care — have been forced more online since the onset of the pandemic, which necessitated social distancing measures.

Various studies have shown that telehealth can be beneficial in the care of a child with autism. As telehealth options continue to expand, Miller is optimistic that it will also serve as a catalyst for autism care to grow to “Version 3.0” — be it if care is delivered virtually or by traditional in-person means.

“I think parents having those choices and making good choices will have a great impact,” he said.

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