October 4, 2022

CEO of Bamboo Health. Over 20 years of healthcare/technology experience with leadership roles at McKinsey and Company, Anthem and Healthways.

It’s no secret that our country is in the midst of a mental health crisis, which only arose from the Covid-19 pandemic. Many Americans are either dealing with a mental health illness or know someone who is. But our crisis does not stop there. the majority are also dissatisfied with current behavioral health options in the United States. According to a poll conducted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and Ipsos, 75% of Americans say they are dissatisfied with the state of mental health treatment in the country.

Fortunately, politicians on both sides of the aisle have taken notice and are showing support for improving behavioral health. On July 16, 988 became the new three-digit behavioral health hotline—like 911—with support for increased funding. However, we also know that these kinds of changes are often slow and can leave significant groups of people out of the equation.

A survey found that 48% of white adults experiencing mental illness who used mental health services in the past year. However, only 22% of Asian Americans and 31% of Black and Hispanic people with mental illness received mental health treatment during the same time period. Further, people in marginalized communities who experience mental illness are more likely to be misdiagnosed or underdiagnosed and receive lower quality care.

These startling findings can be attributed to a variety of systemic issues. First, structural racism—the laws, practices, and social norms that promote inequalities in access—extends beyond housing, education, and food. Health care in general, and behavioral health in particular, is often difficult to access in marginalized communities. This means that there is usually limited access to care, let alone high-quality care. The way our current system is structured requires these people to identify behavioral health treatment and find their own way to a provider, and that doesn’t include appointments or follow-up services. Many resources that list available providers must be accessed over the Internet, are outdated, do not share provider contact information, and do not provide options for how to get there.

In addition, some marginalized communities struggle with lack of adequate health insurance and, as a result, face high costs and surprise bills at their providers’ offices. A lack of knowledge surrounding the health insurance system causes many people experiencing a behavioral health care crisis to delay or ignore the possibility of seeking treatment. After all, stigma it plays a big role in why marginalized communities don’t always get the care they need. Because of the stigma associated with mental health, many do not realize they may be experiencing behavioral health symptoms and do not seek treatment.

The issue of behavioral health access in marginalized communities is not a problem that can be solved overnight or with a one-size-fits-all solution. However, technology can help bridge some of these gaps, and it can do so when we need it most—now.

For example, technology that provides a real-time snapshot of open beds and treatment providers can break down barriers to care by helping patients and their loved ones access care locally. In the behavioral health field, it is also critical that this type of bed registry technology works within a closed-loop referral network. We cannot rely solely on bed register data. This data must work in conjunction with systems that handle the entire patient referral process from start to finish. This ensures that patient care is tracked throughout the process so that the person at risk has a clear pathway to treatment during their intervention in care, increasing the likelihood that the patient will follow through on treatment .

For payers and providers, real-time patient admission, discharge and transfer data can ensure they know exactly where the patient is in the care journey. If a patient goes off track, their doctor or payer can access and leverage alerts that alert them to an emergency department visit, discharge, and care instructions. The behavioral health provider or care coordinators can then contact their patients personally to help them with medication, therapy, or other treatment options. Not only do these practical insights benefit patients by improving their care and outcomes, but these insights also enable healthcare organizations to support value-based care initiatives.

In addition, technology can provide opportunities for our communities to begin to address social determinants of health. For example, by providing appropriate training through publicly accessible technology, our communities can better understand the free resources available to them, such as crisis centers or government programs or preventive health services are covered by the Affordable Care Act. Through technology, we can also begin to educate our communities about the importance of behavioral health and how symptoms of common mental health issues often manifest.

While it is humbling and truly exciting to see the strides our government is making in the area of ​​behavioral health, it is important to urge our local officials to address the needs of marginalized communities. In the meantime, using the technology at our fingertips, we can begin to help everyone in every community get access to the behavioral health care they need when they need it most.

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