Over the past few years, and especially since the outset of the pandemic last March, our society has given an unprecedented level of attention to mental health. Just a decade ago it was considered taboo for someone to even mention that they were seeing a therapist. Today, conversations around anxiety, depression, and mental wellness are thankfully gaining acceptance and becoming normalized. While it seems that we’re getting better about discussing mental health, which is a really critical step for society, we haven’t yet been quite so successful when it comes to treating mental health.
Even though an estimated one in five American adults lives with untreated anxiety and depression disorders, 77 percent of counties in the United States face severe shortages of mental health providers. It is abundantly clear that our current healthcare model wasn’t designed to cater to our collective need for mental health services. While conversations around tele-mental health are increasing, in order to keep up with growing awareness and societal needs, we need to ensure that asynchronous care is included. When we adopt better frameworks of healthcare, we can start to chip away at our overwhelming need for mental health treatment. A digital-first, asynchronous care model is an effective way to scale mental health treatment to millions who can’t access care.
Asynchronous mental health care is meeting the needs of patients, providers, and health systems to bridge gaps and deliver treatment to more of the people who need it. Here’s what this model of mental health care looks like.
Meeting Patients With On-Demand, 24/7 Mental Health Care
Asynchronous care solutions are well suited for mental health treatment. Their inherent flexibility appeals to patients who might otherwise be reluctant to seek care. For a person with severe depression, for instance, the idea of even getting on a video visit, let alone coordinating an in-person appointment—making a call, leaving the house, and talking with multiple strangers—might be unthinkable. But if getting help involves answering a series of dynamically-changing clinical questions about how you’re feeling and what your recent care has looked like, even in the middle of the night, struggling patients have a much easier time overcoming the initial hurdles that too often prevent them from getting the treatment they need. Telehealth is all about meeting patients where they are, and this idea is crucial for people with higher-acuity anxiety or depressive disorders who may require more sensitivity, empathy, and flexibility throughout their care journey.
Reducing Extremely High Wait-Times
By some estimates, the average wait-time for an in-person mental health appointment is at least 25 days. Exacerbating the shortage of clinicians is the fact that our healthcare system is difficult to navigate. Not to mention, many people suffering from anxiety or depressive disorders feel that if they seek behavioral health treatment they will be stigmatized. When you consider this, along with the compounding barriers to access like a long car ride or taking a few different public transportation options to get to a therapist, it’s easy to understand how patients can talk themselves out of even one appointment. We need to make the process of accessing mental health care more convenient, streamlined, and private, so that people are more likely to get the care they need faster.
Improving Clinical Outcomes
Studies have shown patients are more honest, candid, and detailed when addressing mental health issues asynchronously than they are in person or on video. And we’ve heard this from patients who use Bright.md’s asynchronous platform for years. One patient who completed an interview to screen for depression recently shared: “It made getting mental health help so easy. For people who talk themselves out of treatment at the least difficulty, it was ideal.” Plus, as this technology is being used more widely by providers, the value of asynchronous care for mental health is gaining credibility and proving its value. Just a few months ago, a team of psychiatrists and researchers from UC Davis published the first longitudinal study to demonstrate that asynchronous mental health care is proven to improve clinical outcomes in English and Spanish speaking primary care patients.
Empowering Providers to Practice at the Top of Their License.
With digital solutions like asynchronous care, mental health providers can use their time much more efficiently. No longer overburdened by administrative tasks and paperwork, providers can make more effective decisions on treatment modalities that will help with patients’ symptoms. Perhaps a patient with severe anxiety dreads the idea of an in-person or even an on-camera session. An asynchronous mental health session is the ultimate win-win, as it caters precisely to the anxious patient’s needs while offering a new level of flexibility for providers so they can focus on practicing at the top of their license. Virtual health solutions, such as automated intake forms, have been proven to reduce providers’ clerical work by up to 90 percent, which frees up an enormous amount of time for interactive patient treatment. Considering the broad spectrum of mental health needs and the alarming prevalence of physician burnout, it’s clear that flexible, digital-forward care frameworks are far superior to our traditional, one-size-fits-all model of care. Asynchronous telehealth platforms allow providers to optimize their schedules, work more efficiently, and spend more quality time with their patients.
When it comes to mental health care, asynchronous telehealth offers much-needed flexibility and accessibility for patients and providers alike. Offerings like on-demand, personalized clinical interviews are more convenient for patients, open up a great deal of time for providers who were previously bogged down with endless paperwork, and can contribute to better clinical outcomes. Providers are then able to spend more time treating patients, administer care in new settings and channels, and add more variety to their potentially repetitive routines. Finally, the variety of care options associated with asynchronous telehealth is incredibly beneficial for individuals with mental health issues, who often want more flexibility and accessibility in overcoming the hurdles of seeking care. As we continue our national conversation around mental health care, we need to ensure we’re also discussing the right way to administer that care at scale—and asynchronous care is proving to be a big part of the solution.
The author, Dr. Ray Costantini, is co-founder of Bright.md