COVID-19 Confirms Importance of Technology’s Role in Mental and Behavioral Health

June 22, 2020
Pure-play technology and tech-enabled companies are transforming the way care is provided to better address behavioral and mental health needs

The current coronavirus pandemic has spotlighted the need for and benefits of technology and tech-enabled healthcare solutions as tools to provide better access to mental and behavioral health care where no or limited access existed before.

While adoption of technology and tech-enabled solutions across behavioral health has experienced increased utilization over the years, the accelerated pace of adoption and the projected need for these solutions over the long-term, caused by the impact of COVID-19, will continue into the future. This increase will be driven by the number of individuals impacted by loss of a loved one, self-isolation, loss of a job and financial security and PTSD of frontline healthcare workers experienced during this pandemic.

In the United States, a lack of adequate funding, staffing and appropriate access points have historically been the drivers behind the inability to effectively engage and treat individuals impacted by behavioral, substance use disorders and mental health conditions.  Thankfully, in the last several years, we have seen a significant amount of strategic and institutional investments in pure-play technology and technology-enabled service solutions focused on patient engagement and activation. According to Rock Health, in 2019 over $7.4 billion was invested in digital health companies, making 2019 the second best year for digital health companies since 2011.   

Often times, the success of a behavioral or mental health care program is measured by how well it meets where the patient is in their journey.  Patient “buy-in” is critical to increased utilization, compliance and outcomes. But the success of recent investments and acquisitions of behavioral health technology platforms are also contingent on meeting all constituents (e.g., payers, providers and patients) on where they are in their journey of technology adoption and integration to improve care and outcomes.  While COVID-19 has highlighted the benefits these solutions provide, the measurements of success will also be subject to additional scrutiny.  See below two company specific examples and themes, by constituent, Ziegler has seen successful platforms address in their technology solution set:

Several companies could be listed, but below are three companies addressing needs of all constituents through technology and tech-enabled engagement:

·        ForeFront TeleCare:  Founded with the premise to deliver high-quality behavioral telehealth to seniors and other vulnerable adults in rural communities across the United States. The Company recently launched Phase 3 of #RuralHealthSTRONG COVID-19 to offer free peer-to-peer counseling sessions to thousands of frontline healthcare workers across hundreds of rural health facilities. 

·         Mindoula:  The Company’s platform which includes propriety psychometrics, predictive analytics, and the Mindoula Messenger mobile engagement app, has made the company a market leader in hospital readmissions reduction, collaborative care, care coordination for those with serious mental illness and medical comorbidities, interpersonal violence reduction, measurement-based psychiatry and tele-psychiatry, care network optimization, and Emergency Department overlay services. 

·         Tridiuum:  The Company’s technology solutions better measure patient outcomes and behavioral health on an ongoing basis, connect with and utilize their network and a health system's existing resources to better navigate a patient's journey to receive care by the appropriate provider based on an assessment in a turn-around time to schedule engagement in a number of days vs current standards that typically take weeks. The Tridiuum solution-set provides tools to achieve better clinical outcomes and reduced downstream costs of care through proactive engagement and connectivity.

Companies, like those described above, will continue to be in high demand as the volume of individuals post-COVID who present with both low and high acuity behavioral and mental health needs will only rise. 

Payers:

New technologies provide an unprecedented level of data and insight into the care of mental and behavioral health patients. This has been an ongoing challenge for payers as they look for proof of successful and sustainable outcomes beyond subjective metrics of success. This new insight helps payers identify the most effective and impactful care setting and type of engagement for patients, leading to improvements in clinical and financial outcomes. Technology also serves as a conduit for member engagement and helps to manage care at an earlier stage, reducing the downstream cost of care.

Providers:

Technology provides better connectivity and communication. For example, businesses providing data analytics, patient data and data aggregation solutions are gaining investor attention for their ability to better assimilate, aggregate, track and share patient data among a patient’s broader care team. This connectivity offers unprecedented insight into the patients’ full treatment and allows streamlined and efficient collaboration between providers. This collaboration also allows providers to proactively engage with patients at an earlier stage, such as at the primary care level, to improve outcomes and reduce the downstream cost of higher acuity care associated with a reactive later-stage approach to patient engagement.  Lastly, technology allows for providers to work with patients they otherwise would not be able to help caused geographical and staffing constraints.   

Patients:

Patients will see a marked benefit in their care as behavioral and mental health technology and tech-enabled solutions become accessible and more consumer friendly. One of the greatest challenges to effective care has long been the ratio of care providers to patients, creating a bottleneck in brick and mortar access to care. By utilizing the offerings provided through telebehavioral and technology-driven patient engagement solutions, physical settings such as home-based isolation, skilled nursing facilities, hospitals, correctional facilities and community health centers can alleviate that bottleneck.

Additionally, these facilities can offer expanded access to mental and behavioral health services from a distance, expanding access points. Finally, technology solutions also provide patients with ultimate control over how they want to engage with their care. This consumer-driven choice is important, as some patients prefer the anonymity of a technology or text-only interaction while others prefer more personal interaction with a care provider via a virtual visit.

Pure-play technology and tech-enabled companies are transforming the way care is provided to better address behavioral and mental health needs. By improving access to care, offering data management solutions and providing additional engagement tools, payers, providers and patients are already experiencing the benefits of technology through improved engagement and outcomes. As the industry and its applied technologies continues to expand, so too will improved patient care, making the path to management or recovery of behavioral and mental health issues more seamless, effective and efficient than ever before.

Chris Rogers joined Ziegler in 2014 as a Managing Director in the Healthcare Corporate Finance Practice. He leads the firm’s behavioral and mental health team with a focus on both technology and provider service models across the continuum of behavioral and mental healthcare.

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