The Commonwealth Fund is a nonprofit healthcare research foundation that supports work through grants to create an equitable, high-performing healthcare system. Their focus is on improving the healthcare system, promoting high-quality comprehensive healthcare, and addressing maternal equity and equitable access to able healthcare and behavioral healthcare in the context of driving policy change.
Following the COVID-19 pandemic, 2 out of 5 adults are reporting symptoms of anxiety or depression, and children’s behavioral health issues are rising. Some 200,000 people have lost someone during this pandemic, which alone has a different set of implications. Older adults are hurting as well by feeling the impacts of social isolation. Also, drug overdosing has spiked in the pandemic as a result of many colliding factors like addiction treatment interruptions, social services disruptions, and social isolation. Not only are these issues facing society, but there are other issues at play. There are fewer providers, decreased access to care, and additional stressors on top of those systemic issues. Then we have other issues like racism, bias, and stigmas.
Pregnant and birthing people have also struggled. US women have among the highest rates of multiple health conditions and highest rates of mental health needs. They are more likely to report skipping care for many reasons, including the high cost of care. Many have less access to care. This is combined with a limited mental health workforce capacity, and we also spend less on social services. Behavioral health tech has a unique opportunity to help reach people and helps with the health of women and birthing people, as well as those who are most marginalized.
The Commonwealth Fund helps policymakers understand how systems and policies contribute to inequities and also highlights potential solutions. Their work with maternal health focuses on providing evidence-based information, like maternal mortality and morbidity primer, and addressing policy solutions like postpartum Medicaid. There is also a health equity scorecard that looks at each state’s access outcomes and treatments and then compares each state on those measures and their ability to provide equitable care.
Their work around behavioral health has been a focus for a long time. They are ensuring access to affordable health care as well as how they can increase access to behavioral health services by integrating mental health and substance use with primary care that is comprehensive and total primary healthcare. Their work is about how to support integration and care coordination, what are some innovative payment approaches, and showing the importance of growing and diversifying the healthcare workforce. There is a need for more providers and a need for more providers that represent the populations they are serving, leading to more diversity in the healthcare workforce.
There are also state-level opportunities, like helping states as they are building capacity for primary health care and behavioral health while thinking about what their technology solutions are. They really want to focus on the potential of technology to address the gaps and meet the unfulfilled needs with technology, telemedicine, and other digital health solutions.
Other focuses can inhibit the benefits of technological advances within health care. These barriers include access to broadband, as well as audio or video capabilities, and the impacts of that on the tech for healthcare. Regarding how tech can be utilized, there are questions about whether insurance will cover healthcare via technology. Also, it is important to remember that technology is not the end-all, be-all solution. There is an additional focus on delivery systems and payment models.
There are so many different innovative ideas that are trying to address mental and behavioral health and how to reach the most challenging populations. The drive to develop and link together care with those who need it is incredibly impressive. Connecting patients with providers who can actually help them is a wonderful innovation. There are a number of companies that are creating behavioral health tech, and there are specific ones that focus on those marginalized communities. There is a lot of opportunity around telemedicine, and COVID-19 showed us that telemedicine is an effective way to provide healthcare. It has been shown to be at least as effective as a face-to-face intervention with depression and anxiety, as well as some other symptoms in postpartum health, even with addressing postpartum depression. It is amazing to see all of those opportunities develop so quickly.
With all of these great innovative ideas and companies trying to reach those populations that are often left out, there is no wonder why behavioral health tech is the way of the future.