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What Is Behavioral Health? New Challenges & Opportunities

by | Aug 2, 2021

Behavioral health is an area of healthcare with significant impact on patient outcomes and quality of life. While these issues and services are a huge part of our day-to-day lives, many people are still unfamiliar with what exactly this area of healthcare is, or how it works.

Behavioral health professionals focus on the habits, routines and behaviors of their patients to determine how these behaviors affect their health and lives. Examples of behavioral health professionals include therapist, psychiatrist, psychologist, mental health specialist, and much more.

Behavioral Health: In the Spotlight During a National Crisis

While the study and practice of behavioral health is nothing new, recent events have brought the discipline into the spotlight – as a key component of overall health. The nationwide mental health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic caused the number of Americans seeking behavioral health services to skyrocket. As social distancing directives disrupted relationships, an ever-worsening news cycle increased anxiety, and a deadly virus claimed friends and loved ones, the last year-and-a-half has caused Americans to feel increasingly isolated – causing stress, mental health, and substance abuse issues to increase.

This has driven more people to seek out behavioral health resources than in previous years. Mental Health America, a national nonprofit focused on mental illness in the United States, reported a 93 percent increase from 2019 to 2020 in the total number of anxiety screens. In addition, substance abuse/use have increased as well.

More men are now engaging in therapy, access to mental health services has expanded through telehealth and expanded coding – making it more likely to be covered by insurance, no-show rates are dropping as patients now view mental health as a critical component to their day-to-day health, and new forms of technology are allowing behavioral health to grow and be leveraged in ways unimagined before the pandemic. But this explosive uptake is not without growing pains. Behavioral health providers who can effectively navigate privacy, communication, and workflow issues have a huge opportunity to provide better care and increase profitability.

New Challenges – and Opportunities – for Providers

As the demand for behavioral health has increased (and stigma around it decreased), providers have seen a large uptake in patient interest. This rapid upscaling of operations has caused some growing pains in certain areas of operations but remedying them is possible. Here are some of the principal areas in which providers have experienced issues as they have grown to meet demand:

  1. Documentation. Documentation during a therapy visit is quite different than from a primary care visit. In primary care, you have rights to your chart, but in some behavioral health cases, a patient seeing their notes can do harm. This means that private psychotherapy notes (sometimes called subnotes) need an extraordinarily high level of security. Anytime someone requests their therapy notes, decisions must be made about what should be released, and if the information would be helpful to a patient – or potentially harmful to their mental health. This situation requires an elevated level of security and privacy, and some complex workflow policies for staff and technology.
  2. Consolidation. With behavioral health practices becoming more popular (and financially viable), private equity and other groups have taken notice, and have begun purchasing and consolidating individual practices into larger groups. With patient info being so sensitive, the consolidating of data and systems has become challenging. Technological and workflow policies must be standardized and adhered to, to both increase efficiency and maintain patient privacy.
  3. OpenNotes. OpenNotes, a new law where healthcare orgs must give full access to patients’ medical records, has been a cause for concern in the high-patient-privacy world of behavioral health. Studies have shown that increased access to their visit notes and care plans can benefit patients and improve care outcomes – but certain exceptions and policies must be adhered to for behavioral health notes. Because certain patient notes in psychotherapy could be construed by the patient as offensive or hurtful – i.e., notes describing patients as narcissistic, those outlining a patient’s resistance to treatment, or those containing diagnoses with other highly stigmatized conditions – practitioners must strike a balance between being informative enough to be helpful, but also keeping the patients’ psychological needs in mind.
  4. EHRs and Telehealth. The proper leveraging of technological solutions like EHRs and telehealth solutions are crucial for behavioral health organizations. A properly calibrated EHR system is of the utmost importance for the physicians themselves, improving usability, communication, secure viewing and generating of notes, and more. Often, the EHR becomes the main mode of communication between physicians, so having a robust system which allows effective communication between physicians results in better care. In addition, new telehealth solutions are allowing practitioners to see people in outlying or rural areas and provide psychotherapy to otherwise underserved populations.
  5. Practice Marketing. Getting the word out to the community that help is available is crucial – but how? New practice marketing tools and campaigns via enhanced website interactivity, social media outreach, pay-per-click local advertising, and traditional phone- and email-based efforts are great ways for behavioral health providers to better reach those in need of behavioral health services, provide care for their communities, and increase revenue.

The Time to Act is Now

For years, one of the biggest challenges is for behavioral health providers was patient “activation” – overcoming the hurdle of taking that step to make their initial mental health appointment, get to the appointment, etc. While this hesitancy does remain, one positive aspect of the pandemic is that the stigma around seeking out behavioral health services has decreased – and new tools like telehealth have made it easier to do so in the privacy of their homes as well.

With patient interest rising, and barriers to accessing care receding, rapid growth is forecasted for this sector – making now the perfect time for practitioners to implement tools and strategies to increase patient volume and promote growth of their behavioral health practices.

In addition to our large and ever-growing portfolio of service lines for healthcare groups and professionals, Medical Advantage has expanded our services to include consulting and solutions for large behavioral health facilities, private practices, behavioral health companies, and their investors. Find out how we can help your group achieve your goals. Contact one of our consultants today.


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