Overcome Workforce Shortages in Behavioral Health

tele behavioral health workflow

While ongoing pandemic-related challenges and shifting demographics have led to workforce shortages across nearly every discipline in the healthcare industry, behavioral health has been experiencing some of the toughest supply and demand imbalances. That means providers have to find better ways to keep treatment on track so they can achieve positive outcomes sooner.

A survey conducted late last year by the American Psychological Association found that nearly seven in 10 psychologists are reporting increased workloads and longer wait lists since the start of the pandemic. According to the survey, 84 percent of psychologists who treat anxiety disorders say they have seen an increase in demand for services, and 72 percent who treat depression say the same.

In addition, behavioral health professionals are aging out of the profession faster than they can be replaced, leading to a retirement drain on the industry. In 2015, more than 60 percent of practicing psychiatrists were over the age of 55 — a percentage higher than many other healthcare specialties.

Even before the pandemic accelerated the need for mental health services, the Health Resources & Services Administration projected that there would be a nationwide shortfall of more than 12,500 adult psychiatrists and more than 11,500 addiction counselors by the year 2030. Among pediatric providers, workforce issues are even worse, with 70 percent of counties in the U.S. reporting they have no practicing child psychiatrists.

These ongoing shortages mean providers must offer effective care that also makes the most of treatment time. They need efficiencies to help them quickly identify patients in need of behavioral help, speed their access to care, and deliver a measurable impact on outcomes. Today’s behavioral health providers need tools that allow them to accomplish several objective simultaneously.

Ensure effective patient matching

Taking the time to match patient needs and preferences from the start can significantly increase the potential for a positive therapeutic alliance, which can lead to better outcomes. As a key capability of Tridiuum ONE®, Tridiuum ONE® Connect bridges the gap between behavioral identification in the medical care setting and a patient’s first appointment with a behavioral clinician. By streamlining existing processes for patient access, Tridiuum ONE® Connect has proven to reduce appointment wait times significantly.

Employ measurement-based care
A practical extension of evidence-based care, measurement-based care allows providers to track progress in real time and adjust treatment appropriately at the early stages if it seems care isn’t progressing as expected. Yet only 14 percent of mental health providers report regular use of standardized progress measures, and 62 percent have never used them.

Further, a recent white paper by Tridiuum provider partner Crossover Health also validates the clinical efficacy of measurement-based mental healthcare — using the Tridiuum behavioral health platform — to improve outcomes in fewer visits and help decrease wait times.

Every mental health visit at Crossover begins with members answering a standard set of assessment questions, including those that measure wellbeing, medication use, symptoms of depression and anxiety, social functioning, and alcohol and drug use. Then, therapists continually measure progress using this data to inform their approach to care and guide discussions with members around treatment goals and expectations.

Crossover’s in-depth evaluation of its model among 3,071 members receiving care from its clinicians found that its providers were able to achieve significantly better overall mental health outcomes and comparable outcomes for anxiety and depression in an average of just over six visits.

Specifically, findings revealed that over the course of treatment, Crossover members saw significantly greater improvement in their overall mental health status than those who received care in the community. Crossover members’ average Behavioral Health Index score improved 30 percent from baseline, compared to just 10 percent improvement in the community. The analysis also suggested clinically significant patient progress on the well-validated Generalized Anxiety Disorder-7 (GAD-7) and Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9).

Achieving this type of efficiency in time-to-outcomes not only benefits patients in getting them to their mental health goals quicker, but it leads to improved access for all at a time when that access is in dangerously short supply.

Leverage tele-behavioral health for efficiency

Without a doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the industry’s shift to offering mental and behavioral health virtual care services. Behavioral health has consistently outranked all other care specialties in the use of telehealth from 2020 to today. According to the most recent monthly tracking data from FAIR Health, among 35 billion commercial records analyzed, approximately 62 percent of telehealth claim lines were attributed to mental health conditions.

Tele-behavioral health offers a variety of benefits for both providers and their patients, and its ease of use has led a strong majority of providers to report that they plan to continue conducting virtual visits on digital behavioral health platforms such as Tridiuum ONE® even after the COVID-19 pandemic is over.

In addition to helping improve no-show rates and on-time appointments, tele-behavioral visits have the added benefit of no travel time for patients or their care providers. The platform offers clinicians the results of patient assessments at their fingertips during sessions, helping to reduce the time needed to locate and review patient information. These encouraging statistics show that tele-behavioral health has become a valuable asset in clinical care and workflow efficiency, allowing the decreasing supply of behavioral health providers to do more good work in less time.

As care teams look for new solutions to address shortages, making clinical workflows smoother and more efficient is key to serving the people who seek and benefit from behavioral health services.