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Understanding, Updating and Utilizing: Three Ways Telehealth Services Will Increase Your Behavioral Health Client Base

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Since the onset of the pandemic, there has been a specific focus on how telehealth improves access to behavioral health care. The pandemic isolated millions who otherwise would have gone without support from behavioral health providers. Telehealth helped them connect, and as a result, it became clear that virtual delivery of care created new growth for practices. The question now for behavioral health providers is how to retain and expand that client base.

How the pandemic changed behavioral health services

In the early days of the pandemic, in-person behavioral health visits dropped dramatically. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) tracked behavioral health client visits for a large New England health care system. For this study, it was an astounding change from in-person to virtual or telehealth visits.

In this sample group, between October 2019 and February 2020 (the pandemic's onset), in-person visits totaled 29,057. That number dropped between June 2020 and April 2021 to only 2,229 in-person visits, while virtual visits increased considerably. Telehealth visits numbered only 552 in the first period, but jumped to 34,673 in the latter period. Overall, visits increased by nearly 7,300 overall between the first and second periods as the pandemic raged on.

Tele-behavioral health has been a substitutive rather than merely additive delivery-of-care model. There is a strong possibility that tele-behavioral health lowered barriers to the extent that it has redefined access to care and client comfort with providers. Given this new care model, holding on to tele-behavioral health clients and building that base will depend on accepting change and embracing new strategies.

Three ways to develop your tele-behavioral health roadmap

1. Understanding clients’ and providers’ expectations

As many as 90% of American adults have access to the internet, and 96% have a mobile device. Americans in all demographics have attended a telehealth visit during the pandemic, so adjustments have paved the way for a user-friendly experience. Expectations on both sides are beginning to gel.

For clients:

  • Clients now understand they can find providers of their choice that are geographically distant from their homes.
  • They have improved access to care. Tele-behavioral health reduces travel costs and increases the likelihood they will attend scheduled visits. For clients who experience anxiety when leaving home, telehealth provides care in a safe environment. For clients who are physically challenged or isolated, tele-behavioral health is preferred. For employed clients, it offers options to receive care without taking
    excessive time away from work or family.
  • They are seeing a reduction in the stigma associated with treatment for their behavioral health needs through tele-behavioral health access.

For providers:

  • Behavioral health providers now expect timely client care. They have new flexible options regarding hours of operation and virtual walk-ins.
  • This is an opportunity for providers to manage the coordination of care in new ways. Of civilian clients, 40%-60% are currently treated for behavioral health and substance abuse by primary care providers. This creates a new set of expectations for tele-consultation, tele-supervision and tele-education for integrated care.
  • Providers now benefit through tele-behavioral health with a literal window on their client's home life. With permission, this provides valuable insight into conditions and relationships.
  • Tele-behavioral health will lead to reductions in the stresses that contribute to burnout. More manageable schedules, new flexibility and reductions in commute time are helping.

2. Updating revenue expectations with telehealth versus traditional delivery

Adjusting to a new revenue model will require a new roadmap and a new marketing plan, but the transition will be worth it. Grants are available to support tele-behavioral health programs for rural residents. For example, federal aid for general tele-behavioral health programs includes $50 million in SAMHSA grants. Billing for tele-behavioral health requires new rules and regulations. Medicaid expanded coverage during the
pandemic, and most insurance companies include behavioral telemedicine. Confirming coverage with the client before the virtual session begins is recommended.

An exciting idea that the American Medical Association (AMA) strongly supports and that has been gaining attention is primary care provider integration of behavioral health services into their practice through telehealth. Team care provides new avenues for both sides, and it offers primary care physicians the ability to support clients with direct referrals in-house. For behavioral health practitioners, it opens a new audience of clients. This supports whole-person care (WPC) focused organizations that value integrated rather than fragmented whole health services. Tele-behavioral health provides an untapped practice-building opportunity among rural Medicare beneficiaries. Even prior to the pandemic, a dramatic trend was developing. Between 2010 and 2017, visits increased in this population by 425%. Rural residents living with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder are more likely to use tele-behavioral health visits than those living in urban areas. Yet, nearly 80% of rural areas in America are underserved by behavioral health providers.

3. Utilizing EHR technology to help client growth and support

When planning your new tele-behavioral health roadmap for single-source telehealth solutions, integration with an EHR (electronic health record) system provides many strategic benefits.

For example, an EHR creates an interoperable relationship management tool that goes far to nurture client engagement and communication. It helps support such features as scheduling appointments, creating visit summaries, and sending the client orders for diagnostic tests or referrals.

Further, an EHR makes your workflow far more efficient while providing handy new features such as speech recognition for dictation, which improves your documentation quality. Mainly, an EHR improves your ability to grow your practice by making the best use of your time and improving work-life balance. You get access to client data in real time and securely share client care information with other practitioners while it
streamlines your coding and billing.

Now is the time to create your tele-behavioral health roadmap. Core Solutions is ready to design and implement your behavioral health EHR to help you grow your virtual client base. Contact Core today to discuss how the Cx360 platform can change everything for your centralized care coordination.

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