Four Ways Health Systems are Thinking About Behavioral Health Care in 2024

Four Ways Health Systems are Thinking About Behavioral Health Care in 2024

For health systems, meeting patient’s behavioral health needs in a scalable and financially sustainable way requires quality behavioral health programming, specialized providers, and strategic partners who will support their programs and ensure they’re achieving their clinical and organizational goals.

In this blog, we will share four ways health systems are leveraging virtual behavioral health to optimize their programs and set themselves up for long-term success.

1. Health systems are leveraging virtual behavioral health care to improve care in their inpatient psych units

The American Hospital Association (AHA) notes health systems leveraging behavioral health integration can see more patients using their outpatient care services and less patients in their ED for behavioral disorders.

AHA also reported that leveraging an integrated behavioral health model for delivering inpatient psychiatric services can support a 70% return on investment.

Leveraging virtual behavioral health providers also creates continuity of care for the patient, enabling relationship building and not requiring patients to re-tell their stories. Having a virtual provider on the team also gives on-site providers a specialist they can lean on for guidance.  

Laura Taylor, Program Director of Psychiatry at Carillion Clinic, Iris Telehealth Partner

To have an established Iris Telehealth provider was incredibly important because it created reliability on the unit. We knew exactly what we were working with when we had the physician. She was very reliable, and it created continuity of care.

The integration of virtual care in the inpatient psychiatric unit alleviates behavioral health provider staffing shortages that impact patient experiences and outcomes in this care setting and enables clinicians to practice at the top of their licenses to improve total cost of care and provider satisfaction.

Reflecting on the important role virtual care has played in their inpatient unit, Chief of the Department of Psychiatry at Basset Health Network, Dr. James Anderson said, “Telehealth is an important arrow in our quiver to be able to expand virtual health to include providing services on the inpatient end. “

2. Health systems are facilitating whole person care by leveraging virtual behavioral health services

Research from the National Library of Medicine shows that 74.9% of psychiatric patients in the inpatient unit had at least one medical comorbidity, including 57.5% of people between the ages of 18 and 24, making whole-person care a crucial component of a scalable and financially sustainable behavioral health program.

Additionally, according to the American Psychological Association (APA), treatment of behavioral health conditions in the primary care setting offsets costs by 20-40%.

They also report fewer hospitalizations that result in reduced costs for patients with comorbidities and improvement in treatment adherence.

For health systems, behavioral health programming, like Bridge Care Services, helps ensure patients who need care first get care first, while being efficiently directed to an appropriate care plan. Bridge Care Services helps solve ambulatory care at scale and delivers long-term clinical and financial outcomes.

This approach ensures patients who need escalation from primary care receive timely access to quality treatment – whether that’s through therapy, medication management, or both.  

Dr. Thomas Milam, Chief Medical Officer, Iris Telehealth

The care navigation and therapeutic support from [Bridge Care Services] alleviates the burden on the health system’s resources using a cost-effective process that closes referrals to specialists sooner and returns patients to community providers when available.

By providing more timely access to care, health systems are better positioned to achieve measurement-based outcomes and optimize reimbursement. Additionally, by providing whole-person care, their patients feel supported and experience better outcomes.

3. Health systems are improving quality measures by leveraging behavioral health partners

In the U.S., 15 million people report an unmet need for behavioral health treatment. At the same time, most health systems across the country are not equipped to meet the significant behavioral health demands of their communities.

That level of demand was unsustainable, and they needed efficient patient care and to protect their staff from burnout. By leveraging virtual behavioral health services, they were able to improve their outcomes and meet their quality goals.

Dr. Holly Mintz, Chief Medical Officer, Elliot Health System, Iris Telehealth Partner

We were able to convert triage calls into actual full intakes from a licensed social worker that provided the patient with a full evaluation and were billable. We were able to cover the cost of investing in provider hiring by converting those triage calls to a full intake.

There’s a brief triage (assessing presence of a crisis), then the patients have an intake and transfer within one to two business days. That visit is billable. It’s a benefit for everyone and helped make this new program sustainable.

Download this free resource to learn more about how Elliot is leveraging virtual care.

4. Health systems are building scalable and financially sustainable behavioral health programs through virtual care

According to a report from Evernorth Behavioral Health, treating behavioral health conditions in outpatient settings is directly tied to a reduction in medical and pharmacy costs.

Health systems report savings up to $2,565 per person over the 15 months following a diagnosis and up to $3,321 per person over the 27 months following a diagnosis.

At Texas Health Resources (THR), Chief Operating Officer, Kathi Cox, sees success in behavioral health being well-integrated into patient care.

Kathi Cox, Chief Operating Officer, Ambulatory and Virtual Channel Texas Health Resources, Iris Telehealth Partner

Traditionally, you have a lot of primary care physicians or specialists dealing with their patient’s medical health over here and mental health issues over there – it’s very disjointed.

Now that we’ve created a much more integrated approach, there’s an opportunity for those things to work together. If we are collaborating across the organization for these patients, I think that’s a big success area.

Iris Telehealth’s Chief Marketing & Strategy Officer, Dan Ferris, sees integrated behavioral health as a tool to drive competitive differentiation for health systems, saying, “Providing quality behavioral health is a strategic advantage and can be financially sustainable. If an organization can offer integrated behavioral health at scale, they can attract more patients, reduce leakage, and improve the total cost of care.”

About Iris Telehealth

At Iris, we’re proud to partner with organizations like the ones mentioned in this piece every day. Through their hard work, dedication, and partnership, we can extend access to care to people all over the country – regardless of age, diagnoses, or acuity.

If you’d like to learn more about how you can help your health system scale and optimize your behavioral health program, don’t hesitate to contact us today!

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Whether you are a health organization looking to expand your telepsychiatry services or a prospective clinician who wants to join the team, we’d love to talk!