How telehealth can improve the integration of mental health care

As the nation enters its third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, people are under tremendous stress. Even patients who were generally well-adjusted and healthy, especially children and adolescents, find themselves in need of mental health care.

Using technology to integrate behavioral health care into primary care settings—facilities that patients visit regularly for routine care or other medical needs—is a key way to help patients access the mental health care they need. need in a system that does not have enough providers to meet the demand for behavioral health care.

Parinda Katri, MD, CEO of Cherokee Health Systems in Knoxville, Tennessee, discussed how physicians can use technology to help integrate mental health care into their practices and combat the growing behavioral health crisis of time for an episode of “AMA Moving Medicine” on the use of technology in integrating behavioral health.

“We have a tremendous opportunity right now to change the trajectory of the health and well-being of people in our community,” Khatri said.

Telehealth support is a critical component of the AMA’s recovery plan for America’s physicians. You have taken care of the nation. It’s time for the nation to take care of you. It’s recovery time. And the AMA is ready.

Telehealth is critical to the future of health care, which is why the AMA continues to lead the charge to aggressively expand telehealth policy, research, and resources to ensure physician practice sustainability and equitable reimbursement.

The pandemic has allowed a complete disruption to the way things are done and allowed virtual care to play a role, sometimes being the only way to deliver care, said Khatri, a trained psychologist who moved from the role of chief clinical officer to chief executive officer at Cherokee Health Systems after appearing in “AMA Moving Medicine” in May.

“Now is the time [for change]. We know what it’s like the old way. Where our systems are siled and access to mental health care is very difficult,” she said. “Anything we can do to open up access to improve behavioral health capacity … will undoubtedly have an impact on the quality of life for our patients.”

Khatri said doctors and other health professionals need to recognize that virtual technology will not replace them. Instead, it is an additional way to open access to patients. Some patients love in-person care, while others prefer virtual care because it can save them a long trip. Some people enjoy choice.

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“What this technology does is it allows us to tailor the kind of care we want to partner with patients to deliver,” said Khatri, whose health system asks patients what kind of visit they would prefer. “It’s a wonderful way to take care to the next level.”

It’s also a very powerful tool for the doctor, she said. For example, if a doctor is worried because a patient doesn’t show up for an appointment, this can be a great touch point without the patient having to come to the clinic.

The AMA, with Manatt Health, created a report that outlines the opportunities and challenges of incorporating telehealth and other digital tools to help practices more quickly implement behavioral health integration (BHI).

The report, Accelerating and Improving the Integration of Behavioral Health through Digitally Enabled Care: Opportunities and Challenges (PDF):

  • Defines the possibilities and limitations of incorporating technology to advance BHI.
  • Explores practical solutions that stakeholders can take to advance digitally enabled BHI.
  • Demonstrates how to use the AMA Return on Health framework to measure the value of digitally enabled BHI models.

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The AMA established the BHI Collaborative with seven other leading physician organizations to catalyze effective and sustainable integration of behavioral and mental health care into physician practices. Learn more with the Collaborative Overcoming Obstacles webinar series.

Also, check out the BHI Collaborative’s Compendium on Integrating Behavioral Health, which provides healthcare organizations with a proven path to delivering integrated behavioral health care and ensures they have the latest, actionable information.

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