Tag Archives: barry doan

Building a Better Behavioral Health Benefit with Telepsychiatry

By: Barry Doan

Original article published on Benefits Pro

The value of an employer’s health benefit strategy is intrinsically linked to its ability to address an employee’s total health—both physical and mental. That’s why overall wellness trends are shifting to better acknowledge the strong connection between a robust behavioral health care benefit and better overall health, ultimately resulting in improved employee productivity.

While many wellness programs today incorporate tactics that promote positive behavioral lifestyle changes, they often fall short of systematically addressing behavioral health conditions that can hinder an employee’s willingness and ability to embrace those needed changes. Altering entrenched behavioral health lifestyle patterns can be difficult, even if it’s a change that would be beneficial for the member. For instance, diabetic employees are much less likely to engage in diet and exercise programs when they are struggling with active depression that robs them of energy, focus and motivation. These members often represent a substantial percentage of those with chronic health conditions who make up a disproportional share of total healthcare expenditures.

This reality is why many companies are setting their sights on comprehensive employee “well-being” as opposed to “wellness” alone. By prioritizing access to both physical and behavioral health care, employers set the stage for more systemic and long-lasting engagement in self-care—and ultimately improve employee well-being, productivity and the bottom line. It’s important to note, however, that while many companies have invested heavily in identifying high-risk, high-cost employees and programs to engage these employees, access to care is still a major obstacle to this change process.

As part of this shift, many employers are incorporating telemedicine options into health benefit packages as a viable solution for addressing access issues related to traditional in-office care. Telepsychiatry is emerging as a growing opportunity within this movement as an effective means of overcoming common barriers to behavioral health utilization such as stigma, busy lifestyles and poor coordination of services. These models help attract busy and reluctant employees who might otherwise procrastinate getting the help they need.

As a clinical model that leverages videoconferencing technology, telepsychiatry and telebehavioral health are used for evaluations, consultations and ongoing treatment. Employees access this care through live, interactive communication with a licensed psychiatry or behavioral health provider in a private setting. This improved access allows employees to not only address their behavioral health concerns before issues become more acute and costly, but also to reduce the behavioral health impairment that interferes with their ability and desire to engage in employer wellness programs.

The behavioral health challenge

The statistics speak for themselves. Behavioral health issues were the leading cause of disability in 2015, accounting for one-third of new claims.

Depression, for instance, ranks high as an employer health challenge, racking up an estimated $210.5 billion per year — nearly half of which is attributed to workplace absenteeism and productivity losses. In fact, one study points to employer costs as high as $3,386 per individual over a two-year period prior to an employee’s depression diagnosis.

Behavioral health issues often impact the effectiveness of wellness programs directed at physical conditions due to existing co-morbidities. One study found that 45 percent of breast cancer patients also had a psychiatric disorder.

While these statistics may be startling, the good news is that companies can achieve notable return on investment in wellness and complex condition management programs by investing in mental health treatment. In one study, researchers found that for every dollar spent treating depression, $1.55 was spent on the effects of depression in the workplace.

It’s not always easy to quantify the impact of behavioral health treatment, but human resource managers overwhelmingly agree that a healthy, well balanced employee is a better teammate and more productive worker. Often, the problem is getting employees to utilize the behavioral health benefits that are already available to them.

Consider a common example: A company launches an active lifestyle program that includes tracking daily physical activity as one means of supporting the employee’s goals of improving her health. A single mom in the workforce, who already struggles with mild depression and anxiety, finds it difficult to rise to the challenge of addressing her wellness goals. Feelings of guilt and inadequacy over this “failure” exacerbate her behavioral health conditions, ultimately decreasing her physical activity and lowering her overall health scores. Unfortunately, the wellness coach does not recognize the behavioral health condition that is impairing participation and fails to make an appropriate referral for additional professional support. The employee becomes demoralized, feels even worse and drops out of the program, and an opportunity is lost.

Even when the employee recognizes the underlying behavioral health condition that is compromising her health and happiness, she may have challenges taking the desired action to address it. While an existing behavioral health benefit would cover the employee’s treatment, she still must do the following research:

  • Identify what is wrong and what type of provider she needs to find
  • Determine what her benefits cover
  • Find which providers can she see that are covered
  • Schedule her appointment
  • Manage the logistics of attending the appointment which may include taking time off and arranging child care and transportation

Taking hold of the telepsychiatry opportunity

Offering telepsychiatry and other behavioral health care services as part of employee benefits is a trend on the rise, and for good reason

When employees can access psychiatrists and therapists from the comfort of their home or another private space, the behavioral health stigmas are reduced, and individuals are more apt to follow through with care plans. Privacy and confidentiality are also stronger with telepsychiatry because online sessions eliminate the potential of individuals seeing someone they know in a waiting room. Many patients also report greater comfort addressing difficult issues while in familiar surroundings.

Additionally, telepsychiatry expands scheduling options and provider choice, opening the door to greater access. Work and family schedules, for instance, can limit the ability of employees to access traditional services provided in an office setting. Through telepsychiatry, employees can schedule appointments in evenings or on weekends in addition to traditional weekday time slots, which reduces absenteeism or tardiness from work.

The reality is that patient satisfaction trends are higher with online psychotherapy as opposed to traditional face-to-face treatment. While telepsychiatry and telebehavioral health are not for every person, this approach to care addresses many of the common barriers to receiving prompt, professional behavioral health treatment that sets the stage for greater overall health and wellbeing.

Employers seeking to achieve the greatest return on health plan investment are wise to consider telepsychiatry and telebehavioral health as means for promoting use of behavioral health benefits. This effective model of care provides the needed framework for improving access to appropriate healthcare resources and empowering employees to take more control of their health.

Telepsychiatry Helps Businesses Realize Better Outcomes For All

By Barry Doan, MSW

In today’s busy, on-demand world, more employers are offering online or telemedicine services to employees to give them the ability to speak with a psychiatrist or nurse practitioner remotely. Telemedicine is not only convenient for employees who don’t have to take time off work for an appointment, but also helps employers reduce the cost of hospitalizations. While two-thirds of employers currently offer employees access to telemedicine services, that number is expected to increase to 90 percent by 2018.

One popular form of telemedicine is telepsychiatry, a clinical model that uses videoconferencing to provide psychiatry and mental health services, such as evaluations, consultations and ongoing treatment. It allows employees to receive mental health care through live, interactive communication with a licensed provider in a private setting, whether that’s at work, at home or in a healthcare facility. Telepsychiatry is particularly useful given the severe shortage of psychiatrists, which limits access to critical care and results in long wait times.

Impact of mental illness on employers

Mental illness is the leading cause of disability, accounting for one-third of new disability claims in 2015. Depression is among the top workplace challenges for employee assistance programs, along with family crisis and stress. While most employers provide coverage for mental health care, benefits and services aimed at preventing or reducing depression are often underutilized by employees for a variety of reasons. For example, they may have difficulty finding an in-network psychiatry provider in their area, trouble making an appointment that fits around their work schedule or employees may feel stigmatized or embarrassed by their condition.

Untreated mental health issues are costly to employers. The total economic burden of major depression, for example, is estimated to be $210.5 billion per year — nearly half of which is attributed to the workplace, including missed work days and reduced output. Further cost implications can also be attributed to treating medical conditions that often coexist with depression. Employees who suffer depression frequently have other medical conditions that occur at the same time, including diabetes, asthma, COPD, heart disease, chronic pain and insomnia. Treating these coexisting problems can significantly drive up costs. For example, researchers found that for every dollar spent treating depression, $1.55 was spend on depression workplace costs, while $2.13 was spent on treating coexisting disorders.

Advantages of offering a telepsychiatry benefit to employees

Investing in the mental wellbeing of employees creates measurable returns. Research by the American Psychiatric Foundation found that after only three weeks of mental health treatment, the number of work-impaired employees with behavioral health conditions was reduced by half, and after a little more than four months of treatment, two-thirds were no longer work-impaired.

Telepsychiatry can help employers improve productivity and profitability. Here are five reason why:

  1. Convenient

Providing convenient access to psychiatric and mental health care via telepsychiatry can help reduce absenteeism, tardiness and anger issues by allowing employees access to easy and convenient treatments thus enabling more consistent work attendance. Online appointments allow busy professionals to easily access specialty behavioral health services in a private and comfortable setting. Employees can also schedule appointments outside of traditional weekday time slots, such as weekends or in the evening, which reduces travel time and time away from work. By providing enhanced access to care, employees are more likely to engage in services more proactively and routinely.

  1. Prompt

When behavioral health issues are left untreated, they tend to get progressively worse. With telepsychiatry, employees have prompt access to routine care that reduces the chance of the condition becoming urgent or emergent. In light of the dramatic shortage of mental health providers, resources are scarce, driving up wait times to be seen in person. Telepsychiatry meets employees where they are, offering them faster access to care. Accessing telepsychiatry through online platforms not only allows for real-time diagnosis and treatment, but also provides more opportunities for communication between the employee and their mental health provider between sessions.

  1. Increased well-being

Employees who suffer from behavioral health issues cost employers $44 billion per year in lost productivity, mostly in the form of presenteeism — when employees are physically but not mentally present or working at full capacity. Offering mental health care not only reduces employee stress but improves morale. One study found employees who completed just one session with a mental health provider experienced significant improvement in work performance. Employers reported increased productivity and substantial improvement in overall mental health.

  1. Private

Telepsychiatry protects employee privacy and confidentiality just as in-person care does. Moreover, many find that not being in the same room as the provider actually enhances feelings of safety for many. Accessing appointments online also eliminates the possibility of running into co-workers in waiting rooms and/or psychiatry providers’ offices, which can be uncomfortable and contribute to anxiety.

  1. Quality care

Telepsychiatry is has been clinically proven to deliver high quality care that meets the standard of traditional in-person care for diagnostic accuracy, treatment, effectiveness, quality of care and patient satisfaction. Telepsychiatry offers enhanced access to care, which improves an employee’s ability to use services proactively and routinely, and providers can diagnose and prescribe medicine in the same way an in-person psychiatrist can.

Through telepsychiatry, employees and employers can experience better outcomes across the board.

Barry Doan has more than 30 years of behavioral health industry experience and now works for Inpathy, a division of the leading national telepsychiatry service provider organization that delivers telepsychiatry directly to employees and other individuals online.

Original story published on BenefitsPro.com on 4/24/17.