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A technology-driven platform can improve access to care for patients suffering with behavioral and mental health issues, including substance abuse.  Improving patient access to convenient care is critical in under-served communities.

In the case of California, the 2018 “California’s Current and Future Behavioral Health Workforce” report forecasts a substantial shortage of qualified and diverse behavioral health professionals in California within 10 years.  This gap of workers will put minority patients and those outside major metropolitan areas at risk of not receiving the care (including medication and counseling) they need, especially those who live in rural/remote areas which experience a lack of qualified professionals.   The researchers considered two possible scenarios:

  • In one scenario, the researchers projected what the state would need if current utilization rates The study concluded that California would have 41% fewer psychiatrists and 11% fewer psychologists, therapists and social workers than would be needed in 10 years.
  • In the other scenario, the researchers assumed that the state now does not meet behavioral health needs by a significant margin, based in part on federal estimates. As a result, the study concluded that California would have 50% fewer psychiatrists and 28% fewer psychologists, therapists and social workers than would be needed in 10 years.

Driving factors of expected shortages include low rates of reimbursement as well as:

  • Insufficient professionals being educated/trained: Universities in California do not have enough residency programs for training mental health professionals.
  • Aging of the current workforce: The shortage of professionals is driven by current and expected retirement levels, as those older than the age of 60 make up 45% of psychiatrists and 37% of psychologists.
  • Low satisfaction amongst behavioral and mental health professionals:  Burnout, extensive documentation requirements, and restrictive regulations around sharing clinical information necessary to coordinate care are all contributing to workers’ overall fatigue with the profession.

To address the concerns about reimbursement and widen access to behavioral and mental care, California Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed legislation that would enable the state’s Medicaid program to reimburse certified healthcare providers for using virtual care and telehealth to treat patients with substance abuse disorders. This measure will expand the state’s Medicaid program to reimburse certain healthcare providers who use technology to deliver substance abuse counseling.

Whether using virtual care technology for substance abuse counseling or other behavioral and mental care needs, healthcare organizations are embracing how technology can improve patients’ access to care.  Instead of waiting hours in the ER for an in-person consult, hospital staff can quickly facilitate a virtual consult to help determine if hospital admission or transport to another facility is needed in a more timely manner. Mental and behavioral health professionals will have greater flexibility – and more can be available remotely – in providing virtual consults round the clock and throughout their state. Patients can use their devices to participate in ongoing care from the comfort of their own home, thus alleviating travel costs related to follow-up appointments and addressing any potential concerns for those patients who are wary of being seen / recognized when visiting a clinic in their neighborhood.