Doctor and patient sitting across from each other at a table.

The intersection of behavioral health and chronic conditions, how digital health solutions can help, and what tools currently exist.

A chronic disease is one that lasts three months or longer, may get worse over time, and may not be curable. Some chronic diseases include cancer, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, and many others. As of 2014, 60% of American adults had at least one chronic condition, and 42% had more than one. In fact, Americans with five or more chronic conditions make up 12% of the population but 41% of healthcare spending. Additionally, chronic diseases are America’s number one cause of death and disability. 

People with chronic diseases are more likely to have or develop a mental health condition. In 2012, the CDC found that 51% of Parkinson’s patients, 42% of cancer patients, 27% of diabetes patients, 17% of cardiovascular patients, and 11% of Alzheimer’s patients also had depression. Additionally, people with diabetes are 2 to 3 times more likely to develop depression than those without diabetes. 

Also, the COVID-19 pandemic has introduced a new set of patients with chronic disease, the COVID long haulers. A study from May 2021 reported that one-third of COVID patients had been diagnosed with neurological or psychological symptoms in the six months after infection. In fact, patients with long COVID rank cognitive function and mental health as their top concerns. COVID has increased the prevalence of chronic conditions and behavioral health conditions.

What is the problem?

Not only are people with chronic conditions more likely to have mental health conditions, but people who have depression and another medical illness are more likely to have more severe symptoms of both illnesses. As Rick echoed in our session, when “people do not address the behavioral health condition, that exacerbates all the other conditions that they are carrying.”

Treating mental health and chronic conditions together can help people manage both conditions better and improve outcomes. As Rick mentions, “mental health is a critical component of whole-person care,” and it’s important to integrate mental health services when addressing chronic conditions.  

What Tools Can Help?

There are many point solutions available for tackling chronic conditions, but to appropriately address chronic conditions and mental health simultaneously, integrated solutions are key.

Lyn Health is a digital clinic for those with two or more chronic conditions. Lyn Health utilizes a Care Circle, which is a team of physicians, clinicians, and social workers, to offer virtual primary care, care navigation, medication management, behavioral health services, and social support. A key part of the model is the Care Partner, who acts as a navigator and liaison, and Erica explains that a large part of that is about “meeting members where they are, understanding what is going to suit their unique needs, and being able to set ourselves up accordingly.”

Dario Health is a digital platform to address chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, weight management, musculoskeletal health, and behavioral health. Dario offers connected devices such as glucose monitors, scales, and blood pressure cuffs in conjunction with a mobile app and live coaches to address chronic condition management. Data analytics allow patients to review their metrics over time, and a provider-facing online platform gives providers insight into their patient’s progress.

Vida Health is a mobile app with a modular platform designed to treat chronic conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension, and mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, and stress. The app can sync with scales, blood glucose meters, fitness trackers, and other smart devices. The app also offers asynchronous messaging, digital content, and video visits with a personalized coach and therapists as needed for a full care experience.

Main Takeaways for Integration

  1. COVID-19 Created a Greater Need for Chronic Condition Care: Long covid and a greater prevalence of mental health conditions have created more patients looking for integrated chronic care.
  1. Integrated Solutions are Key: Mental health and chronic conditions cannot and should not be treated separately. Solutions that integrate care will be more effective and successful.

Please check out our video library to hear our entire conversation with Rick and Erica from Lyn Health.