Forging relationships with primary care providers is a core building block for LifeStance’s (Nasdaq: LFST) value-based care strategy.
While the outpatient mental health provider has its sights set on value-based care agreements in the future, it could be a slow transition. The move will require more primary care integration and a solid foundation of measurement-based outcomes, LifeStance CEO Ken Burdick said at Morgan Stanley’s Healthcare Conference.
“[Value-based care] is a slow trend. It [was] slow in the physical health space, and it’s certainly lagging behind in the mental health space,” Burdick said Monday at the conference. “Having spent decades on the physical side, it was always so obvious, but moving from fee-for-service to a pay-for-value has been difficult. But I see that sort of on the heels of the macro trends on the physical side. I think that’s where we need to get to with mental health.”
Founded in 2017, operates in 34 states, with 600 care centers. The company offers virtual and in-person outpatient mental health care for children, youth and adults with several mental health conditions.
One of the first steps to moving towards value-based care is building relationships with primary care to conduct studies around the impact of behavioral health on physical well-being, Burdick said.
Behavioral health providers have traditionally used questionnaires like the PHQ-9 to monitor depression and the GAD-7 for anxiety. But there could be other, potentially more meaningful metrics to measure.
For example, a patient’s school attendance, emergency room usage and the frequency of seeing their primary care provider could all be important metrics to prove value.
“It’s going to take a level of collaboration that hadn’t really existed between people focused on somebody’s emotional well-being and people focused on their physical well-being,” Burdick said. “So it’s putting that together. It’s doing sufficient studies [to prove value]. It’s doing the right attribution and having significant data to support that hypothesis. … I’ve seen it so much in managing both Medicaid and Medicare populations. It’s just a matter of having the rigor to do the study, having the scale to produce statistically significant data.”
Burdick projects that it’ll be three to five years before value-based contracting in the behavioral health space takes off.
Still, behavioral health companies have a lot of potential to demonstrate their value in improving a patient’s holistic health.
“The holy grail for me would be when we can do enough work with the physical side of health care, to demonstrate that when you’re effectively managing both the physical and the emotional well-being, there is a reduction in total cost of care,” Burdick said. “I have no doubt in my mind that it’s true. But now we have to prove it. And that’s going to take a while.”
While moving from fee-for-service to value-based care may take some time, LifeStance is doing the groundwork in building relationships with physical health providers.
These relationships have been mainly through referral partnerships. For example, in May, LifeStance inked a collaboration with women’s health provider Gennev focused on integrating care for individuals experiencing menopause.
“This opportunity helps [us] partner together to help our patients in a much more holistic way and recognize that this is a one form of primary care, behavioral health integration,” LifeStance Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anisha Patel-Dunn previously told Behavioral Health Business.
The provider has also teamed up with U.S. Renal Care to create a referral partnership and has more planned for the future.
“We’re trying to find those partners where the patients that they are seeing have a really strong combination of physical and mental health needs,” Burdick said.