Hands typing on keyboard.

Health systems can utilize digital behavioral health solutions to augment and extend traditional services such as prevention, detection, support and treatment, and management or recovery.

The Going Digital: Behavioral Health Tech team just released a white paper, "Creating the Ideal Digital Behavioral Health Vendor Portfolio: A 4-Step Blueprint." In parallel, we spoke with Trina Histon, PhD Senior Principal Consultant in Prevention, Wellness, and Digital Health at Kaiser Permanente's Care Management Institute, about how Kaiser Permanente has adopted digital behavioral health tools. A similar conversation came to mind from the 2020 Going Digital: Behavioral Health Tech Conference with Tom Nix, CEO of Ria Health, and Kristian Ranta, CEO and Founder of Meru Health, about successfully partnering with health plans and health systems. With all this in mind, let's dive into how health systems can successfully integrate behavioral health apps. 

How Can Digital Solutions Help?

Health systems can utilize digital behavioral health solutions to augment and extend traditional services such as prevention, detection, support and treatment, and management or recovery. These tools can help patients with skill-building and self-care techniques and even help with symptom relief and resilience. Giving patients on-demand psychoeducation and support benefits everyone, from stakeholders to the patients they serve.

Additionally, when these tools are used at scale, health systems and other stakeholders are able to identify areas of improvement, such as service gaps and utilization barriers. If the digital solution offers validated measures, health systems and providers can receive detailed standardized, longitudinal data about each patient. Digital tools can also empower patients as they become more aware of their specific symptoms and triggers. Integrating digital health solutions can also increase behavioral health diagnosis and treatment rates if incorporated into existing workflows.

Under Dr. Histon's leadership, Kaiser Permanente has successfully integrated a few digital behavioral health solutions over the past few years. Dr. Histon explains that Kaiser Permanente originally wanted to use behavioral health solutions to target patients that were considered subclinical. But they found that digital solutions are "good for everybody. So if somebody has moderate or even severe depression and is in a comprehensive kind of care that includes medication, psychiatry, and therapy, at least tools can be a way to complete homework between sessions." These tools can be a way to keep patients engaged with their treatment and a way to track progress in between in-person interactions.

How to Get Started

Startups need to integrate both clinical evidence and user experience. Health systems will always prioritize digital solutions that can show sound clinical data. Tom explains that it's helpful for startups to acquire the outcome data first to demonstrate their worth to health systems sufficiently. He continues that it's essential to be "able to show people really good, clinical data and how it impacts the lives of their members. [Then you have the] opportunity to kind of think through the solution that makes the most sense, not only for the health system but for the patients and for the providers." Remember that each health system has unique needs and requests to cater to its specific patient population.

Dr. Histon also emphasizes the importance of creating a user-friendly experience and explains, "we're providing health care, and that's a very vulnerable relationship for somebody, and it's not the same as other consumer experiences. At the same time, consumers are expecting a seamless [digital] experience, like going shopping or taking transportation, and they're expecting that of healthcare as well." Younger generations are accustomed to a digital experience, and healthcare leaders need to think about creating a product that is easy to use and navigate. Having a user-friendly experience also leads to increased user engagement. Dr. Histon explains, "I think engagement is just critical. Because if you just open the app and download and you never do anything else, that's not going to work for us in healthcare."

Dr. Histon adds that due to the diverse populations your health system serves, there "is no one app that rules them all." Health systems need to consider their diverse member base and recognize that multiple digital solutions may be utilized to meet everyone's needs. Additionally, it's crucial to consider how these apps can foster trust with the patients using them. Having the right balance of tech vs. touch can help patients feel more at ease. As Kristian explains, "we're seeing that [including clinicians in the app] makes a whole lot of difference when people know, and hey, that's a provider that's now reaching out to me. I'm…engaging with a provider versus a kind of technology." Health systems and startups can partner to find the appropriate balance of technology and clinician interaction.

Key Reminders For Startups and Health Systems

1. Focus on clinical data AND user experience

Both aspects are essential to creating an effective app that patients want to engage with.

2. Digital solutions can support patients across the care continuum

Consider ways to support the diverse populations you serve through various digital solutions.

3. Check in along the way and ensure the digital solutions you choose are working for your population

As a health system, you have a lot of information about the patients you serve. Proactively talk to digital health startups about your specific needs and how your patients will feel most supported.

To hear our entire conversation with Dr. Trina Histon, visit our video library.