Virtual care provider Amwell (NYSE: AMWL) has its sights set on using artificial intelligence to bolster its behavioral health capabilities.
The telehealth giant recently launched a system within its platform that immediately connects patients to a therapist in real time.
After Amwell providers or its AI-backed automated systems determine the patient needs mental health services, the patient is queued to see a clinician on the same platform. The move is meant to bridge a systemic gap in health care: patient activation.
Amwell rolled out the system near the beginning of the quarter. It’s part of the company’s rolling implementation of Converge, a unified tech platform.
Survey data show that about 42% of Americans who sought mental health care couldn’t get it because of costs or other barriers, such as lack of proximity to care. This is a dire roadblock that keeps patients from getting the care they seek, or that is prescribed to them by primary care providers, who already have access to the patient.
The transfer system is complemented by Amwell adding AI patient interactions. While AI makes for increasingly compelling and easy user interactions, its ability to activate patients into care makes it a promising tool, Roy Schoenberg, co-CEO of Amwell, told BHB.
“How do you get patients out there to get connected to those resources?” Schoenberg said. “We know that uptake is nowhere near where it needs to be. A lot more people end up still being stranded, even though technically they could have gotten access to a program here or there.”
Patient activation is an upstream challenge that defeats any intervention; a patient cannot benefit from care if they don’t get it. The typical abysmal uptake of B2B health services highlights this issue. A majority of investors say low utilization of the health solutions they provide is a major issue. In turn, many B2B behavioral health providers have experienced a reluctance on the part of clients to pay flat fees for services, preferring a pay-for-use model.
Payers have tried delivering interventions to their member populations in an attempt to improve health and drive down health care spending for years. The so-called “dialing for dollars” models where payers or their partners solicit engagement are largely ineffective. They also pale in comparison to examples of payers, providers and other organizations that partner with each other to use previously established relationships or touchpoints with patients to get them into behavioral health.
For Amwell, a virtual health care organization that provides the technology infrastructure and care services to over 1,000 health systems, has built in an easy button that leverages thousands of patient touchpoints to get those in need into care.
Bringing it all together
In August 2021, Amwell acquired virtual mental health provider SilverCloud and health care services automation company Conversa Health. Amwell also employs hundreds of mental health clinicians through its Amwell Medical Group, Schoenberg said, but declined to specify exactly how many.
The Converge platform, which launched in April 2021, also includes automated and AI mental health services. Around the beginning of the pandemic, Amwell invested in automated mental health tools to make mental health a “companion” for patients.
“That escalation capability back into a live queue of therapy, that was the last piece of the puzzle of the integration between those systems,” Schoenberg said.
SilverCloud pairs patients’ use of digitally supported and tracked self-guided curricula and therapy sessions. Conversa Health and other automated services enable Amwell and its partners to address all care delivery settings.
“[SilverCloud] allows us to really further expand our understanding that the care of any one patient is going to be what we call hybrid,” Schoenberg said, adding that parts of a patient’s behavioral health will be delivered in-person, via telehealth and through automated technologies.
The addition of SilverCloud and Conversa Health led to a subscription revenue jump in 2022. During Amwell’s 2022 annual earnings call, the company’s leaders said behavioral health on its own and as a value-add to its comprehensive service offerings address an area of massive demand within health care.
Schoenberg told BHB the company has seen through data at its payer and provider partners a “huge amount of need and ask out there” for behavioral health services.”
“The thirst for that combination for that hybrid model of behavioral health — even though we thought it was going to be large — is just astounding,” Schoenberg said. “It’s incredible how much more need we see than anything that we could ever deliver.”