Top Trends in Behavioral Health in 2019

A number of social factors, including many high profile public figures speaking out about mental health, have contributed to a steady dismantling of traditional stigmas surrounding seeking treatment for mental health problems in the United States. As these stigmas begin to break down, more and more people feel empowered to take the proper steps towards addressing the state of their mental health and get the help they desperately need.

This is particularly important for the overall population health because, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-quarter of adults in the U.S. experience some type of behavioral health disorder in a given year. And of the 190 million Americans that suffer from chronic illness, physicians are beginning to acknowledge that a larger portion than traditionally believed have a behavioral health issue as the root cause of that chronic illness.

With chronic illness accounting for 89% of all hospital admissions, 91% of all prescriptions, and 76% of all physician visits, this shift in attitude and scientific consensus has massive implications for the healthcare industry as a whole.

We’ll take a look at a few of the ways the healthcare world is adapting and responding to an increasing emphasis on behavioral health.

The Link Between Behavioral Health and Chronic Conditions

As mentioned above, the medical community is increasingly discovering comorbidities (the simultaneous presence of two medical conditions) between chronic conditions and mental health.

For example (per a detailed report from Modern Healthcare):

  • Between 15%-30% of people with diabetes also have depression, resulting in worse outcomes
  • Up to 33% of those who suffer a heart attack later experience depression
  • 29% of adults with medical conditions also have some type of mental health disorder

Because of these striking correlations and the general refocusing of healthcare towards a more value-based, coordinated care model, more and more providers are advising patients and raising public awareness to address behavioral health needs.

Skyrocketing Demand for Services

Directly related to the previous phenomenon, demand for behavioral health services have reached all-time highs. According to a study conducted by the U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration, the U.S. needs to add 10,000 providers to each of the several distinct mental healthcare professions by 2025 to match the anticipated increase in demand.

Job boards are stuffed with a multitude of BCBA positions and other behavioral health roles, like addiction specialists, private practice therapists, and organizational psychologists as hospital systems nationwide try and ramp up their workforces to meet the surging demand.

Shortage of Providers

While the demand for behavioral health services surges, the number of available providers to meet that demand is woefully short. The American Hospital Association released a detailed study in May of this year, reporting on the state of behavioral health.

While acknowledging the incredibly high prevalence of behavioral health disorders, the AHA also remarked on the urgency to develop strategies to address deepening workforce shortages. Using 2016 as a dataset, they reported that of the 44.7 million adults with mental health disorders, only 43% received any sort of treatment.

In light of this glaring deficit, they stressed that “hospitals and health systems are examining ways to increase access to care” in a variety of ways, including “forging community partnerships, integrating physical and behavioral health care in primary care settings, and re-examining the role of EDs.”

Improving Access to Services

In addition to primary care-based services, providers are expanding on their implementation of telemedicine to better engage with patients, improve the quality of care, and reduce the maldistribution of healthcare professionals. Nearly half of behavioral health providers report utilizing telehealth for behavioral health services, citing video conferencing as the most common method, per a study conducted by the University of Michigan.

With its effectiveness in reaching a wider patient population, reducing costs, and increasing the regulatory approval rate of digital healthcare platforms and services, leveraging telehealth to address behavioral health treatment is only expected to increase in the coming years.

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