Healthcare Software Development

Straight talk on remote mental healthcare

Posted May 19, 2022
By Shelly Lucas

Traditionally, mental healthcare has been viewed as a murky area of medicine. Negative attitudes towards mental illness and so-called “subjective” treatments have pushed it to the fringes of public consciousness.

Thankfully, this is changing. The pandemic turned the tide, creating a surge in demand not just for mental healthcare but also for the treatment of addictive behaviors. To accommodate both of these patient needs, health systems quickly rolled out remote care programs for behavioral health, with good results.

Still, important questions linger about using digital tech to treat behavioral health conditions. How effective is remote care for these patients, really? How is progress being tracked? And is reimbursement keeping pace with demand?

To answer these questions, we called upon the expertise of Owl CEO, Eric Meier, and Matthew Peters, MD, associate professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Chief Medical Officer at Rose Health.

During our “Mental Health’s Reality Check” webinar, Meier and Peters shared candid perspectives on digital tech’s successes in treating mental illness and addictive behaviors. But they didn’t stop there. Meiers and Peters were equally outspoken as they discussed the hills tech vendors and clinicians have yet to climb.

For a glimpse of the compelling insights shared in their conversation, read on…

Measuring outcomes in behavioral health

On the face of it, assessing and measuring patient outcomes in behavioral health seems far less clear-cut than monitoring the healing of a broken bone. However, by using measurement-based care, it becomes possible to use standardized measurements to assess behavioral health patients.

“Behavioral health assessments are not subjective if you take an evidence-based approach,” Meier said. “At Owl we offer 300+ patient measures across a variety of care situations. We find patients are the best representatives of their symptoms. They just need to be brought into the methodology so they practice it regularly.”

Meier noted the Owl platform has more than a 90% patient engagement rate based on the patient-generated assessments completed and the provider usage of this information to improve care.

Getting clinicians to adopt new technologies can be a challenge, especially when they’re struggling to manage their workloads. To ease the clinician adoption curve, Owl completely automates patient questionnaires and patient outcomes reporting to save clinicians’ time.

“We’ve learned not to underestimate the burden on behavioral health clinicians,” said Meier. “Owl makes measurement-based care easy for clinicians, leaders, and patients alike.”

The question of reimbursement

Even if a digital technology helps clinicians save time and deliver improved care, it isn’t likely to be adopted if that care isn’t reimbursable.

And passively waiting for reimbursement is never a good option for health tech vendors.

Emphasizing this point, Peters explained how Rose Health changed its unreimbursed status by changing its business model. Originally, its offering was a remote patient monitoring (RPM) app for mental health providers. Encountering reimbursement issues with this approach, Rose Health pivoted to a remote behavioral health and collaborative care model, which was reimbursable.

This new solution provided educational content to lower-risk patients, tracking for early indicators of patient decline, and behavioral specialist coaching for clinics as well as connections to long-term patient care.

What if switching business models just isn’t possible? Peters encouraged tech vendors to follow in the footsteps of ResMed, which worked tirelessly to get a reimbursable code for its sleep apnea machines.

“Mental health technology vendors must be willing to invest time and money to build advocacy and get reimbursement for the measures they collect,” he said.

But wait… there’s more

What you’ve read is just a small slice of the webinar discussion. During the event, Meier and Peters also exchanged views on other hot topics in remote mental healthcare, including:

  • Social determinants of health: How well is this data being used for mental health?
  • New regulatory directions: How do we rein in the “wild west” of digital health solutions?
  • Lessons learned: What’s the panel’s best advice for behavioral/mental health solution builders?