2017 Trends: Behavioral Health Innovation

Healthcare policy and funding are finally starting to catch up to the notion that treating the whole person – mind and body – promotes improved outcomes in overall health and wellness. And as industry leaders from both payor and provider communities continue to tout the benefits of care coordination and care management, there’s no doubt that the role behavioral health plays in delivering quality care will continue to grow.

Follow the Money

The Department of Health and Human Services last month unveiled a new initiative to increase the number of mental health providers and substance abuse counselors. Health Resources and Services Administration and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration will give a total of $44.5 million to new and current grantees through the Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training program. In total, 144 grants that support clinical internships and field placements will receive funding through this initiative.

Enabled by Technology and Innovation

The numbers are staggering: there are an estimated 4,000 areas in the U.S. designated as having a shortage of mental health professionals — one psychiatrist per 30,000 people. To address this problem, the tech industry is busy creating digitally-based solutions. Last May, for example, MDLIVE began offering behavioral health services as part of Walgreens’ mental health platform, giving consumers access to secure video sessions with more than 1,000 licensed therapists nationwide.

It’s not just a consumer play, either. Health plans have quickly moved into this business. Currently, 29 states and the District of Columbia require health insurance companies to pay for telehealth services if those same services would be covered when provided in person. More commercial insurers are offering telehealth visits to behavioral health professionals, including Aetna, Anthem, Cigna, and UnitedHealth Group.

And, if the last few years tell us anything, this trend is far from over. In the first half of 2016, venture funding for digital health reached $2 billion, and it is projected that 2017 will see a national behavioral health spend of $239 billion.

In addition to new industry segments like telehealth addressing demand, researchers are working to improve diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders like depression. A recent study shows that a blood test might be able to help doctors tailor treatments for depression by highlighting high levels of inflammation, which helps predict the drugs that may or may not be effective.

Clearly mental health innovation is advancing at full speed — and there’s no reason to believe it will slow down any time soon.

Demand Creates (Communication) Opportunity 

For the healthcare industry, and health IT in particular, the rise in attention, solutions, and spending (as well as the slow chipping away of pre-existing stigmas) presents new opportunities. As marketers and communications professionals, we are facing an unprecedented occasion to break down barriers, expand awareness, and be on the forefront of this shift. Here’s a few examples to get started:

  • Identify and share your unique point of view (as it relates to behavioral health). How does your organization’s core belief ­— what you stand for — look through a behavioral health filter?
  • Consider the top healthcare trends, identify how you fit in, and create relevant campaigns. For example, what does behavioral health look like when it’s integrated into precision medicine, care coordination, or population management?
  • Find the right partner. Organizations across the U.S. (and globe) have been fighting to get behavioral health on the “front page” for decades. Identify other allies and work together to find ways to expand awareness and deliver a point of view that will reach the right audiences.

As with all areas within healthcare, behavioral health presents its own unique nuances. Before launching any campaign, it’s important to keep those in mind in order to avoid that metaphorical foot in your mouth. Don’t worry, my blog from Mental Health Month has the information you need to get started.

As you look to 2017, make sure you are planning for the important role behavioral health will play across the healthcare industry. As marketers, we have a unique opportunity to be part of a something that (likely) affects all of us — and frame the future as we break down barriers.

September 30, 2016
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