The Future Leaders Awards program is brought to you in partnership with PointClickCare. The program is designed to recognize up-and-coming industry members who are shaping the next decade of behavioral health, senior housing, skilled nursing, home health, and hospice care. To see this year’s Future Leaders, visit https://futureleaders.agingmedia.com/.
David Aziz, vice president of Integrated Behavioral Health and Enterprise Strategy at LifeStance, has been named a 2023 Future Leader by Behavioral Health Business.
To become a Future Leader, an individual is nominated by their peers. The candidate must be a high-performing employee who is 40-years-old or younger, a passionate worker who knows how to put vision into action, and an advocate for behavioral health patients, and the committed professionals who ensure their well-being.
Aziz sat down with Behavioral Health Business to talk about his career trajectory and the ways the industry is evolving.
What drew you to this industry?
I came to LifeStance back in September 2017. That was shortly after the company was founded earlier in 2017. Our mission was to increase access to trusted, affordable, personalized mental health care.
It just so happened that my younger sister had been battling cancer for the previous three years and I became aware of her illness’s mental health strain. The awareness of what my sister had been going through, as well as many family members and friends who went through the experience alongside her, made it evident to me that public awareness was increasing. Barriers to care were also decreasing, but there still was a significant disconnect between patients needing behavioral health care and those getting it.
What’s your biggest lesson learned since starting to work in this industry?
If it wasn’t clear in 2017, it is now that there’s a behavioral health crisis in the country and my biggest lesson has been how many people suffer in silence from behavioral health issues. It’s not enough to provide the best treatment options. Ensuring patients are properly screened and engaged in their care is equally important.
That is separate from just having the treatment available. Historically, this has been a challenge, but the good news is that it is an addressable challenge.
Being a part of a company like LifeStance, we have a significant opportunity, given our 6,100 licensed clinicians and geographic base across 34 states. We can really meaningfully address the behavioral health crisis.
So it’s not only increasing access to care on its own, but partnering with primary care providers, and that includes pediatrics and women’s health providers, to implement collaborative care, which is a specific model, but then also other population health-specific models that can be done through integrated behavioral health.
If you could change one thing with an eye toward the future of behavioral health, what would it be?
I’d like to see all health systems and primary care providers bet on better behavioral health treatment for their patients. Part of that means taking some risks, accepting changes and investing in new models of care. It can be challenging for clinics, many of which are under-resourced or have historically not been able to roll out behavioral health programs profitably.
But what I see as exciting here is being able to direct these clinics’ investment in behavioral health and reduce upfront costs by outsourcing that type of service. Embedded therapists will work closely with a dedicated behavioral health coordinator, which allows them to practice at the top of their licensure.
What this does, in turn, is maximize the number of warm handoffs that are occurring.
What do you foresee as being different about the behavioral health industry looking ahead to 2024?
Every year that goes by, there’s a more compelling evidence base that demonstrates that appropriate behavioral health treatment improves outcomes and lowers the total cost of care for patients.
Being a part of that evidence base and contributing to it is something that I’m looking forward to. The mindset around looking at behavioral health as a cost center is shifting towards an opportunity to decrease total cost of care. There still needs to be a lot more data gathered on that and scale and in practice. That’s where things are moving.
In a word, how would you describe the future of behavioral health?
I’d say transforming. Whether you’re talking about the state of behavioral health or the delivery of behavioral health care, it’s transformed so quickly in the last few years, and I think that’s kind of set off a domino effect that will continue.
If you could give yourself advice looking back to your first day in the industry, what would it be and why?
Much of my experience at LifeStance has shown that with growth comes a lot of responsibility.
Starting a company with 200 clinicians to now having 6,000, I never realized how much of an impact we would have. Today, when I look at what we’re trying to accomplish with measurement-based care, and with our partnerships with payers, etc., moving the needle is something that’s in sight.
To learn more about the Future Leaders program, visit: https://futureleaders.agingmedia.com/.