June 24, 2024

Serene Nest

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From Access to Impact: Prioritizing Quality Mental Healthcare with Measurement-Based Care

5 min read

58 million people suffer from mental health challenges in the United States. Depression rates are at an all-time high. Yet despite earnest efforts from the mental health industry and Americans spending billions on care per year, only 13% of patients who receive treatment report lasting improvement.

These facts serve as a call to action to reposition our approach to addressing the mental health crisis. While access to treatment is critical, outweighing this aspect of care won’t get to the root of the problem.

Ten years ago, I lost one of my best friends to suicide. At the time, he had access to treatment for his bipolar disorder and saw both a therapist and a psychiatrist. However, even with these resources, the quality of care was not enough, and he tragically took his own life between appointments.

Sadly, my friend’s story is too familiar. An American dies by suicide every 12 minutes – more deaths than war, murder, and natural disasters combined.

To improve patient outcomes and save lives, we must prioritize improving the quality of care, which will simultaneously alleviate the issues of access faced by those who need support. Doing so will require a two-fold approach: instituting values-based care industry-wide to ensure clinicians are being incentivized and rewarded for improving outcomes and implementing a nationwide standard of high-quality treatment across providers and organizations.

The quality vs. access dilemma

It’s no secret that Covid-19 had a drastic impact on our mental health system. Skyrocketing patient demand has burned out clinicians nationwide. Nearly half of practitioners say they’ve been unable to meet the need for treatment. Approximately 75% have longer waitlists than before the pandemic. Despite their best intentions, a burned-out clinician is more likely to deliver lower-quality care.

Meanwhile, it’s the norm in the industry for patients to cycle through different providers, treatment approaches, and medications in an attempt to find care that works for them. This results in many people ending up in what feels like an endless cycle of trial and error.

The status quo isn’t working. Expanding access to the existing system alone won’t solve these problems if the mechanisms for providing care are inefficient and ineffective. Access must come hand-in-hand with quality of care – which is where measurement-based care (MBC) comes into play.

Why clinicians and patients need measurement-based care

MBC involves regularly collecting feedback from patients during therapy sessions and using that data to better guide individualized treatment plans. MBC has benefits for patients, clinicians, and the industry at large. Studies show that MBC helps patients recover faster, stick with treatment longer, and lower the chances of their condition worsening.

With MBC, clinicians get data-driven insights to run better sessions and improve patient care. They also spend fewer 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.

Putting financial incentives to work through value-based care

MBC also presents major opportunities for the entire industry. Mental health systems are largely underfunded because payers don’t have established guidelines to inform reimbursement for the value of treatment. To improve care quality, we must align financial incentives with clinical outcomes.

This is generally referred to as value-based care, which ties the amount providers earn for their services to the results they deliver for their patients, such as quality, equity, and cost of care. Value-based care programs hold clinicians accountable for improving outcomes while giving them greater flexibility to deliver the right care at the right time.

Transitioning to value-based care requires measurement of treatment outcomes. MBC provides a solution for practitioners, offering them a blueprint on how to deliver higher-quality care. Payers have transparency in recognizing successful treatments so they can adjust reimbursements accordingly. If MBC accelerates a patient’s path to recovery, then reimbursement incentives should encourage more clinicians to adopt this method.

Creating a new standard of treatment

Another critical next step in improving treatment quality is aligning on what high-quality care actually looks like and how to measure effectiveness across a wide range of organizations, populations, and treatment settings.

Most areas within healthcare — including surgery, oncology, and primary care — have implemented and validated standards of quality treatment. However, outcomes-based standards in behavioral health have been nonexistent. If there’s no guiding baseline for what’s effective, how can we improve the quality of care?

By putting widely accepted standards in place, there is a path forward for the industry to evaluate one organization’s quality of care against another’s. This would not only be powerful for providers working to provide the best care for their patients but also for patients who are looking to figure out the best treatment for them.

Championing widespread adoption 

We can’t successfully transition to a new model of care without technology. Digital tools can help clinicians and practices adopt MBC and – by extension – move the industry to value-based care and create standards for quality care.

While there are plenty of solutions on the market, the industry needs more products built for clinicians to effectively support this transition at a large scale. These products must be:

  • Frictionless for patients: People seeking care are going through challenging times already, so solutions must meet patients where they are and improve their experience.

  • Actionable for clinicians: For data to actually be useful in improving outcomes, it must be timely, actionable, and provided to clinicians on a session-by-session basis.

  • Seamlessly integrated into existing workflows: Technology is only as good as its ability to seamlessly fit into clinicians’ existing workflows to lessen the burden on providers in transitioning to a different treatment style.

As mental health issues continue to rise, it’s imperative that we not only focus on improving access but also raise the bar for the quality of care. The good news: we have solutions to help. Now, we need an all-hands-on-deck effort to implement them.

Photo: Maria Korneeva, Getty Images

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