Brad Kittredge and Dr. Doug Nemecek sitting on stage with HLTH branding behind them.

Many complicated factors influence how, when, and where an individual decides to get care, implying there isn't a single "digital front door" but multiple entry points.

There are more mental health and substance use point solutions than ever, so how are health plans, employers, and, most importantly, patients to know which solution they should use to forge a path to meaningful behavioral health outcomes? We brought together health plans, providers, investors, and more at HLTH 2023 to learn how the healthcare ecosystem can better bridge the supply-demand conundrum in behavioral health while prioritizing affordability, access, and seamless patient experiences.

Brad Kittredge, founder and CEO of Brightside Health discussed how to meet patients where they are to better deliver life-saving mental health care with Dr. Douglas Nemecek, Chief Medical Officer of Behavioral Health at Evernorth Behavioral Health. Read highlights from their conversation below. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

Dr. Nemecek, what do you see as the primary barriers that are stopping people from receiving behavioral health care?

Most of us don't know how to easily access health care—specifically, the right type of health care. We need to do a better job of helping people find more appropriate care, especially regarding mental and behavioral health. Limited time for appointments, a lack of patient self-advocacy, and a provider shortage are also barriers to behavioral health care. However, leveraging technology is working to help expand access and make it more convenient for people.

Is there any evidence to show that people are getting behavioral health care sooner, thanks to the availability of digital health tools?

The data is definitely encouraging, showing us digital solutions are improving access to care for individuals. Before, people would go through three to five different providers before sticking with one and getting the care they need. This takes too much time, and people likely won't re-engage. Now, we're seeing people engaging sooner and quicker and not having to try as many different providers or clinicians before they connect with somebody who is truly engaged. The more we can simplify this journey for people, the sooner they'll receive care, and we'll start seeing better outcomes.

It sounds like we can be reasonably optimistic that some of the things we've all bet on are starting to make a difference in the way that people are seeking and receiving care. With that, do you have a point of view on the various digital front doors people use?

One of the things that we need to acknowledge is that there isn't just one front door that will work for everybody. We've gotten better with our ability to personalize care journeys for individuals so that we can address their specific needs and use cases. But to do that, we have to have multiple front doors to engage people where they are and when they're ready to commit to care. That's where digital solutions come into play – creating new front doors via the web and apps to expand access, making it easier to connect, and adding more variety and opportunity to personalize care.

It’s great these front doors are bringing more people into care—but what's next? What's the next step in ensuring these solutions are adding value?

To deliver coordinated, impactful care, we need to start measuring outcomes. As a specialty, we haven't done much from a measurement perspective over the last 30 years, but that's where we see the future heading – measuring who's getting better and how they are getting better. It's about keeping the patient at the center of what we do so we can further personalize care and optimize outcomes so each individual can better function at work, at home, and in their community.

What are you looking for from the providers you partner with? How are you engaging with them, and what are you asking of them?

So many investments and innovations focus on how we deliver behavioral health care today. But as a psychiatrist, I know we must find better ways to deliver care at scale to people needing help. That requires strong partnerships with providers that enable us to take something to market in a way that improves access and outcomes. They need to prioritize measurement, help improve the therapeutic alliance, and demonstrate that they can make that initial match with a patient in a way that really works for the patient. And they need to help us increase our diversity so we can make sure we can make meaningful connections with each patient. It’s really about having all the right pieces so that we can optimize the care journey and optimize the care outcomes. These are some of the things we're focused on at Evernorth to drive outcomes in a scalable, sustainable way.

The Behavioral Health Tech Conference in November will continue to shine a light on ideas and solutions that improve access to mental and behavioral health care, pulling in perspectives from health plans, employers, behavioral health providers, digital health companies, investors, policymakers, and more so that we can continue making progress for people in need of care.

We’re looking forward to more discussions like this one, and we hope you’ll join us either in person or online. Register today!