Startups that Transform Behavioral Health

StartupHealth technology has become an exceedingly lucrative niche as of late. More and more technology companies are inventing ways to make healthcare easier and more accessible. This influx of startup companies focused on health technology, however, has recently shifted focus. Instead of starting businesses based on general physical health, there is now a large number of companies making technology focused on behavioral health. Unfortunately, Behavioral Healthcare in the United States has suffered as of late. It faces several internal and external issues that prevent behavioral health from becoming a medical priority. New startup companies are hoping to help. Below are two that look quite promising.

Quartet Health

A persistent issue in behavioral health today is the low level of access that behavioral health patients have to trained professionals. Quarter Health has created a comprehensive platform that includes patients, doctors, and insurers. Primary Care Physicians are able to refer patients to behavioral health professionals that work with the patient’s insurance through this platform, as well as to be updated on the progress of each patient. Behavioral Health professionals are able to communicate with the PCPs of their patients, as well as to accept or deny patient referrals with no risk. Additionally, they can use the platform’s billing and scheduling tools for their practice.

This platform is also used by insurers and employers in a number of ways. For one, it has tools that help determine whether or not someone is suffering from an undiagnosed behavioral health disorder. It also can help spread understanding of such disorders and the effects they have on behavior and performance. Patients are also given perks in this platform. They can take part in online treatment programs, communicate with health providers on a secure connection, and even talk to others suffering from the same conditions.

Akili Interactive

Akili is a different type of digital health company in that it works to build quality platforms with video-game-like qualities that can be remotely used by patients and physicians alike. These platforms will be used in a variety of ways, including to assess neural functioning in patients, as well as provide an interactive situation in which interventions can be put in place.

The platforms that Akili is developing fall into certain categories. The first is the group meant to improve neural functioning and cognitive systems. Another is cognitive measurement, which includes products that frequently assess the neural functioning of each patient.

For more information and behavioral health news, visit the New Horizon Counseling Center website.

Pokemon Go and Mental Health

PokemonThe newest craze to hit the digital sphere panders to the nostalgia of many. Pokemon Go is an augmented reality game that exists on an application on your phone. Its premise is ingenious – those with the app can walk around to ‘catch’ Pokemon in real-life places. All they have to do is point their phone camera at where the Pokemon is supposed to be, and it shows up on their screen, surrounded by the real world. Players use their touchscreens to throw Pokeballs and collect these critters. One of the great many features of the game is that it is built on a premise of walking. In order to run into Pokemon, hatch eggs, and find Pokemon gyms, players must get outside and wander around different neighborhoods. Soon after the game was released, many of those who downloaded it began to report an improvement in their mental health, catalyzed by Pokemon Go.

People have taken to platforms such as Twitter and Tumblr to express how the game has made strides in easing symptoms of depression and anxiety. They have reported that it has given them the motivation to get outside on days during which they feel like doing nothing at all. Additionally, Pokemon Go has been proven to be a great way to interact with strangers. Those with mental health issues find themselves not only walking around outside, but also socializing, which is important when dealing with mental illness.

Experts say that the game is also beneficial for mental health in that it allows people to take a break without indulging in common negative forms of escape. For example, many people, after a long workday, tend to go home or to a bar and have a drink to relax. This can lead to a reliance on alcohol when encountering everyday stressors. Pokemon Go has given its players a way to get their mind off of stressors that simply involves getting some exercise. Instead of having a drink, users are prowling the streets for rare Pokemon and getting a much-needed dose of sunshine.

Success stories are still pouring in on social platforms. One user reported that the game gave her a reason to spend the week outside interacting with friends, which, to her, was ‘unreal.’  Another stated that the game worked better for him than any therapy or medication that had been prescribed. A third tweeted that Pokemon Go actually made him want to go outside and interact with people, after having not had that urge for years. These are only a few example of the hundreds, maybe thousands, of accounts of the game helping a player ease their psychological struggle, even if only for a little bit.

Pokemon Go has unintentionally become a therapeutic app for so many people, and it is just getting started. This really speaks to the power of technology in helping people deal with the negative symptoms of mental illness. I am excited to see what other augmented reality games appear in the future, and the effect they will have on mental health.  

Discussing Mental Health at Work

WorkWhile the United States is slowly becoming more open about discussing mental health, there is still an underlying stigma that deters many with mental illnesses from talking openly about their experiences. This is doubly true in the workplace. Employers give their staff a select number of sick days in case of physical health problems such as the flu or a bad cold. Unfortunately, employees suffering from mental illness are hesitant to take sick days for their mental well-being. This is a real issue, especially since a recent study showed 18% of employees surveyed had experienced a mental health issue in the past month leading up to the study. Unlike a temporary physical illness, a mental health disorder can require time to go to therapy appointments, a need for a quieter workspace, or even alterations to a work schedule. It is important that people who suffer from mental illness know how to approach their employers with information about their condition and their needs.

Before speaking to anyone at work, it would be wise to speak about the decision with a mental health professional, like a therapist. This person can help you come up with talking points and direction, so you can go to work knowing exactly what you need. When addressing your direct manager, keep in mind the relationship you two have. If it is a close, more friendly relationship, feel free to be slightly more open about details. If, however, you do not feel comfortable revealing certain aspects of your mental illness, do not feel pressured to jeopardize your own privacy; you can be more vague with the details.

Also, it is important to be very clear about what you are hoping to get out of the conversation with your manager. If you need time in the middle of the day for a therapist appointment, for example, ask for a long lunch. It is important in this asking process to also inform your manager of how you will make up the work you miss when going to said appointment. Perhaps you can stay a bit later at work, or not take a lunch break the day following the appointment to catch up. Reassuring your manager that you will not fall behind will make them more willing to let you do what you need for your mental health.

It is important that you take advantage of company resources as well. If your company has, for example, an employee assistance program, you can get confidential help free of charge. Also, if you do not feel comfortable discussing issues with your direct manager, perhaps try asking HR for advice.

Most importantly of all, do not be afraid to take sick days for your mental health. Taking care of yourself mentally is as important as taking care of yourself physically. If you need to, take a sick day to relax and care for yourself so you can return to work rejuvenated.     

Value-Based Payment Systems

DoctorThe term ‘value-based payments’ is being thrown around a great deal in the behavioral health industry. It describes a new method of paying for healthcare that encourages providers to give each patient the best care possible. Currently, healthcare providers are paid for their services based on the number of patients they bring in the door, as opposed to the quality of care they provide. With value-based payments, providers are assessed on the care they give and are given incentives to improve their metrics. This system is currently being tested by a number of payers and providers, but it has not yet fully expanded to behavioral health.

Of course, the transition from fee-for-service payments to value-based payments has not been easy, and there are still many undetermined factors at play. The healthcare system has relied on a volume-based payment program for so long that the rough transition surprises no one. There was, initially, the issue of tracking performance. Metrics with which to measure the quality of a provider’s care had to be agreed upon. Currently, it looks as if many of the value-based programs are using inpatient quality reporting data. Part of the issue with expanding value-based payment programs to behavioral health is that quality may be more difficult to track in behavioral programs. Unfortunately, the measurement of metrics for value-based programs that are now present do not apply to behavioral health.

Another difficult transition is the shift in provider tracking. Instead of accounting for insurance companies and patients as if they are all the same, the care of all patients must be scrutinized individually. Providers have to compile evidence that they are meeting or exceeding standards for quality care at the lowest cost possible in order to get rewards for their hospital.

Despite the difficult transition from the old way of payment, it is speculated that a shift to value-based payment has the potential to improve the behavioral health industry as a whole. It will, for one, encourage behavioral health providers to give their patients quality, low cost care. Insurance companies typically do not offer reimbursement for mental health services, as they treat it as being separate from physical health services. Switching to a value-based program would change that. It would give insurance companies an incentive to cover more mental health services, a phenomenon that is woefully lacking today.

Overall, value-based payment systems are being heralded as the future of this country. They are looking to completely change the healthcare industry by focusing more on patient care that saves money in the long run by making sure there is less hospital readmission and costly care. While this is beneficial for medicine as a whole, it will have the biggest impact on behavioral health.

For more information, visit New Horizon Counseling Center.

 

Mental Health, Worldwide

HandsWhile mental health is an issue being pushed to the forefront of American culture, it is still not recognized everywhere in the world. Many societies refuse to believe in mental illness, and therefore shun anyone who exhibits signs of a disorder. Other places tend towards things like demonizing the suffering individual and hiding them away from their peers. It is an unfortunate practice, as those who need help are not getting it. This is especially true in underserved countries and for people like refugees. It is no wonder in such places that mental health professionals are hard to find, but it is in dire situations that such professionals are necessary. This is why the World Health Organization and the World Bank have decided to move mental health on to their global agenda.

The two groups recently met in Washington to discuss the state of mental health in the world, and realized that it was an untreated epidemic in many places. Refugee communities especially are suffering. People in such communities are forced to leave their homes, and tend to suffer from psychological distress as a result. Many refugees suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety. Mental health counseling would improve the quality of life immensely for individuals in such situations, yet nobody has thought to act on the fact until now.

Apparently, this recent decision by the World Health Organization and the World Bank came at the same time as a release of research on investment opportunities for depression and anxiety treatment programs. The research showed that investing in these programs could have a sizable return, making it a high gain investment without much risk involved. This conclusion is based on other worldwide treatments that have been successful in the past. A tool called OneHealth was used to estimate the cost and return.

Mental health has not been entirely absent from the developing world, however. In the past, individual groups have attempted to raise awareness of mental health to underserved populations. Mental health workers have traveled to countries ravaged by disease or natural disaster in an attempt to help the people in the midst of crisis. Individual aid groups have also developed treatment programs for women and men who have suffered some kind of sexual abuse. However, mental healthcare in developing countries has never been taken on by well-known health organizations. This could be a giant step forward for the mental health community worldwide.

While it is unclear how much this focus on mental health was spurred by a potential return on investments, spreading mental health care to refugee communities and developing countries is important. It will improve the quality of life all over the globe, and signifies another step toward eradicating the stigma surrounding mental illness for good.

Study Shows Mental Health not a Priority Amongst General Practitioners

The_Doctor_Luke_Fildes_cropAlmost one in five Americans suffer from mental health conditions. According to studies reported by News Week, approximately 42.5 million Americans, or 18.5 percent of the American population lives with some form of mental illness such as depression, bi-polar disorder, and schizophrenia. The same report accounts that 9.3 million of those adults – ages 18 and upward – suffer from “serious mental illness”, disrupting their ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. Problematically, the American mental health care system is ill-equipped to treat many, if not most of these individuals.

Rising scrutiny over the American mental health system has brought to light many inadequacies among general mental health care. For example, many individuals displaying mental illness symptoms seek the help of general practitioners. However general practitioners – although qualified – fail to either properly diagnose or treat mental health. Other conditions that affect physical health are often prioritized and even valued more than those affecting mental health. The Huffington Post reports that doctors often neglect to follow-up with patients displaying symptoms of mental illness. Contrary to that, doctors are much more likely to engage with patients suffering from chronic physical illness. What does this mean? The report found that doctors are actively partaking in treatments for patients suffering from diabetes, heart failure, and asthma, but not for those suffering from mental issues like depression.

Part of the reason for this failure is the general cost of health care. Most individuals suffering  from mental illnesses like depression or bipolar disorder are left out of proper treatment for financial reasons. Specialists are often expensive, and treatments and visitations are not covered by average health insurance packages. General practitioners who are largely unfamiliar or ill-equipped to treat mental conditions do not address the issue with the attention it requires. “Depression is a recurring illness. When it’s there, it’s often present for months. It needs a lot of active management and multiple treatments. Most people can recover from their depression, but they’re vulnerable to a second depression or a third depression,” said Sagar Parikh, associate director of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Depression Center.

The stigma surrounding mental health illness may also be a contributing factor to inadequate treatments. Doctors may just deem physical ailments as more deserving of treatment, rather than spending time and effort with mental conditions. This may lead to improper doses of possibly harmful medicine. If general practitioners and doctors saw mental health with the same urgency as physical health, many more cases would be properly treated. Mental illness like depression and bipolar disorder lead to other more harmful conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal issues, and strokes.

Lindsey Holmes of the Huffington Post believes that changing cultural attitudes towards mental health disorders may lead to more adequate training for doctors and treatment for individuals. “These illnesses require effective treatment and proper care in order to live a fulfilling, healthy life,” ends Holmes.

If you found this post interesting and would like to read more on Mental Health news and info, check out my twitter @Herrick Lipton for more. Thanks for reading !

Mental Health & Young People

As the years pass, more medical professionals spend time focusing on the mental health problems that are seen in children under the age of 18. As something that affects a variety of families in the country, mental health is something that should discussed with children. I have created a presentation of the statics of mental health problems affecting the younger generation. Please feel free to comment or share with anyone who are interested. 

Mental Health & Young People from Herrick Lipton on Vimeo.

A Different Kind of First Aid

ISO_7010_E003_-_First_aid_sign.svgWhen many think of ‘first aid,’ a visual of one person putting a bandage on another may come to mind. First aid is usually deemed appropriate when a person suffers some sort of wound. However, mental health is not associated with first aid. On the contrary, mental health is not considered a condition that can be treated in any specific moment; you cannot put a bandaid on someone’s emotions. Nevertheless, the National Council for Behavioral Health has created a mental health first aid course, in which people can learn skills such as how to react appropriately when they believe someone is adopting a mental health issue, and what to do when someone is in the midst of a mental health crisis.

It is astounding how much of the population does not know how to properly react when witnessing the manifestation of a mental health disorder, considering that 1 in 5 persons experience some degree of mental illness each year. Instead, the level of mental illness stigma is rising at an alarming rate because people distrust what they do not understand. Mental health first aid is meant to be a resource for those who have never experienced mental illness to understand the different experiences people with mental illness may have, and how to appropriately react to said experiences. It is, therefore, educating its students and combatting stigma by default.

This course is not simply about lending an ear to someone in need. Rather, it is geared toward all types of tough emotional situations. In 8 hours, its participants are taught about common mental disorders and are made to memorize acronyms for and action plan to react to someone experiencing a mental health crisis. It becomes painfully clear during the training that everyone experiences mental illness differently, and no situation will be as clear-cut as is stitching up a wound. However, the steps taught in the course can, for the most part, be applied to any situation for a short amount of time. Instructors stress that the course teaches an immediate response and is not applicable to longer-term mental health care. When someone is experiencing a mental health crisis, he or she needs assistance right away. However, longer term mental health care should be taken to the professionals.

The step-by-step reaction process is memorized through the acronym ALGEE. It stands for Assess (the situation for risk of harm,) Listen (without judgment,) Give (reassurance,) Encourage (professional help,) and Encourage (other support strategies, including self help.) Of course, not every step can be applied to every crisis, just as not every band-aid is shaped to fit every cut. However, the training stresses that the approach does not have to be in-depth to assist someone in need.

Mental health first aid was created as a program in 2001, and continues to grow. It is a resource that works toward the destigmatization of mental illness, and has the potential to help minimize the number of people who damage themselves during a mental health crisis. Hopefully, this training continues to expand and grow across the world.

Welcome!

Welcome to Herrick’s blog about behavioral health. Stay tuned for updates coming soon!