U.S. mental health has been declining for the past decade, but the COVID-19 pandemic put this trend into overdrive. A record-high nearly 30% of adults have been diagnosed with depression. Suicide now claims more lives than wars, murders, and natural disasters combined.
Most conversations around solving the mental health crisis focus on access to care. Yet, there are more mental health clinicians per capita than almost any other medical or healthcare specialty – but only 13% of patients undergoing mental health treatment get better and stay better. Americans spent $280 billion on mental health in 2020, yet in 2019, 57% of people struggling with mental health issues didn’t receive adequate care.
We need a paradigm shift in how we think about getting people the care they need. While access to treatment is critical, access alone is insufficient if the services provided are ineffective and not high-quality. By instead focusing on providing higher-quality care, we can simultaneously alleviate the issues of access faced by those who need support and create a healthier future for generations to come. Measurement-based care (MBC) – and the technology available and needed to support the industry’s transition to this best practice – is key to making this a reality.
Tech’s forgotten frontier
For far too long, the mental healthcare industry has been left behind by technology. Mental health is one of the only areas of healthcare where treatment is largely based on subjective decision-making, with little to no feedback loops to improve care. It’s the norm for patients to cycle through different providers, treatment approaches, and medications in an attempt to find care that works for them, with each step taking months. This results in many patients ending up in what feels like an endless cycle of trial-and-error.
Patients aren’t the only ones experiencing challenges from our outdated mental healthcare system. Clinicians nationwide are suffering from burnout due to skyrocketing demand in the wake of the pandemic. Almost half of clinicians report that they can’t meet the treatment needs of existing patients.
Excessive documentation is the number one factor leading to burnout. Most clinicians spend at least 15 minutes on documentation for every 45-minute session. In other words, 25% of their valuable time is spent on administrative functions and notes, rather than working with patients. Despite their best intentions, a burned-out clinician is also more likely to deliver lower-quality care.
This is where measurement-based care (MBC) comes in.
What is measurement-based care?
Measurement-based care involves regularly collecting feedback from patients during therapy sessions and using that data to better guide individualized treatment plans. This type of care has clear benefits for both patients and clinicians. For patients, MBC has been proven to improve treatment outcomes and increase feelings of personal engagement along patients’ mental health journeys. Patients also report a greater sense of ownership in treatment decisions.
With MBC, clinicians get data-driven insights to run better sessions and improve patient care. They also spend less hours on paperwork and manual data entry, so they have more time and energy to spend with patients. Beyond providing a boost for direct patient care, MBC also supports care coordination in multi-provider teams and across clinical spaces.
Given the benefits of MBC, you would imagine that nearly every mental health provider would be using it. Yet, fewer than 20% of clinicians have embraced this approach. The reality is, it is often overwhelming for practices to figure out how to implement entirely new systems of care, particularly at a time when most clinicians already have so much on their plates. Thankfully. technology can help.
Tech as a partner for clinicians
Easy-to-use technology can empower clinicians and practices in the move to MBC. For clinicians, digital tools can help relieve manual work through automation, whether that’s streamlining the creation of session plans or translating data into progress notes, which also helps reduce burnout. Tech-enabled platforms can also help clinicians incorporate their selected outcome measures into their electronic healthcare record, taking the administrative burden off the practice in the transition process. With the advent of AI, new tools and products are being developed to help further assist clinicians.
Technology solutions also meet patients where they are, improving their experience and empowering clinicians with more data to provide better care. By providing ways for patients to interact digitally and via mobile, and offering out-of-session therapy homework, clinicians get deeper insight into their patients’ habits outside of therapy sessions, increasing the effectiveness of care.
While there are plenty of solutions on the market, the industry needs more products built for clinicians to effectively support the transition to MBC on a large scale. I’m sure that we’ve all experienced buying a tech product that we thought would solve a major pain point in our daily lives, but now sits on a shelf collecting dust. The same goes for clinical practices. Technology is only as good as its ability to seamlessly fit into their existing workflows, and clinicians need solutions built by those who truly understand their day-to-day and pain points.
The future of mental healthcare
While this is an incredibly difficult time for many people experiencing mental health challenges and those who are supporting them, there is a silver lining: we have the unique opportunity to shape the future of mental healthcare for the benefit of all. Just as we do in every other area of healthcare, we need a data-driven approach to mental health treatment, so clinicians can do their best work and provide patients with the highest-quality care possible.
By adopting the right technology to help make the transition to MBC, the industry can ensure that those in need of support receive the effective, efficient, and personalized care they deserve.
By Danny Freed
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