Rates of behavioral health conditions among children and adolescents have skyrocketed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. But, finding appropriate care can be challenging for pediatric patients and their caregivers.
Partnerships between pediatric behavioral health providers and primary care practices could be one way to improve care integration in the future.
“Three out of four kids start the mental health journey in that pediatrician’s office. It is the largest on-ramp to reach these kids,” Natalie Schneider, CEO of Fort Health, said at Behavioral Health Business’ INVEST event. “The trouble is pediatricians don’t have reliable referral partners. So I think models similar to ours, where we wraparound services for pediatricians and keep that pediatrician engaged and informed with clinical progress updates, are incredibly helpful. It reduces abrasion for those PCPs as well.”
Fort Health provides pediatric telehealth services. The New York-based company recently raised $9 million in funding.
Integrated care has become a hot topic in the behavioral health field. While most focus on adult primary care and mental health services, providers can apply the same principles to a pediatric model.
The business case
These types of partnerships could benefit a patient’s overall health and a behavioral health provider’s business.
“If you think about partnering with pediatricians, you can really lower your [customer acquisition cost] and have a sustainable business model with a path to profitability,” Shiv Bhavnani, senior associate at Two Bridge and founder of GIMBHI, said during the panel. “So I think that leveraging primary care has been a theme that we’ve seen even in adult mental health as well.”
Two Bridge is an investment and consulting platform. Its investments include Move This World, a social-emotional learning platform and BetterYou, a holistic wellness app.
Schneider noted that this move to a partnership model has helped Fort’s overall business.
“In the beginning, when we were experimenting with direct-to-consumer before we fully committed to our PCP referral model, the conversion rates for D2C were atrocious,” Schneider said. “Our conversion rates from PCPs are really good because the PCPs understand the families. They know which families are waiting and ready for treatment.”
A focus on schools
Another potential partnership opportunity for behavioral health providers is schools. Several big-name deals have occurred between school districts and virtual behavioral health providers. For example, in February, school-based telehealth company Hazel Health announced a $24 million partnership with the Los Angeles and Compton Unified School District.
But teaming up with schools can have unique challenges.
“For schools, we found that it’s a very long sales cycle. And it’s very difficult,” Dan Davidson, president of Galen Mental Health, said on the panel. “Most of the time, providers will just give up because the school is very bureaucratic and it’s very difficult to sell into.”
Galen Mental Health operates a network of mental health treatment centers that offers mental health, dual diagnosis and eating disorder care for adults and adolescents. The provider was founded in 2021 and is based in Coral Gables, Florida.
While integrating full-on care models into schools could be challenging, schools and universities could be an excellent place to start with preventative care.
“I think an area which is very ripe for innovation is preventive care and taking more of a public health lens,” Bhavnani said. “Thirty percent of youth suffer from a mental health issue. By providing care once the problem becomes an actual clinical level, are you doing root canals but not doing regular cleanings and checkups? So I think there’s a huge opportunity in youth mental health at the preventive level, whether that’s mental health first aid or psychological training and employing those models at universities and schools. There’s a lot of ideas there.”