Consumer Engagement in a High Tech World

istock_000004595951_mediumThere’s a greater urgency for payers and behavioral health providers to place consumers at the center of treatment to deliver better care and reduce costs. Providers are an essential part of the healthcare system and in the midst of preparing for changes as a result of the Affordable Care Act. Technology is also a big part of healthcare services and implemented as a cutting-edge treatment and to coordinate and track services. How behavioral health providers adopt technology in the future to engage consumers will have a great impact on treatment effectiveness.

Consumer-focused care isn’t a new idea and mental health advocacy organizations and behavioral health providers have known for years when consumers are engaged this improves outcomes and compliance. Peer specialists have emerged as key support professionals, the self-help movement has paved the way for the adoption of digital self-care apps and psychiatric advanced directives are now commonplace. Providers have embraced technology and the self-help methods to support consumers through various treatment settings but more work must be done to fully integrate technology into practice.

It seems we are finally at a place in our behavioral healthcare evolution where payer structure, the availability of technology tools and the consumer movement philosophies are in greater alignment.  This is happening at a good time, Deloitte Center for Health Solutions 2015 Survey of US Health Care Consumers reports 48% of consumers want to partner with their doctors instead of passively accepting treatment decisions.  The days of professionals telling consumers what they have to do to get better are waning and soon a one-size-fits-all approach to treatment will be a thing of the past.

But fully realizing a consumer-centered approach to care has had its share of struggles in a complex healthcare system where people and providers can fall through the cracks.  Top down care philosophies with a professional-know-best attitude, slow adoption of technology in behavioral health systems and stigma against people with mental illness still persists. This presents real challenges in actualizing true consumer engagement.

David Theobald, MBA, SageSurfer Advisor and National Board Member, Mental Health America

We recently asked David Theobald, MBA, SageSurfer Advisor and National Board Member, Mental Health America, about what technology’s role will be in consumer care and how providers can better partner with consumers.

What will technology’s role be in increasing consumer’s engagement in care?

Technology is a double-edged sword for behavioral health.  It has tremendous potential for increasing consumers’ engagement in care, yet it can cause harm if not combined with human and professional contact.  On its own, technology can be a dangerous distraction for those struggling with mental illness. My 16-year-old son just completed a 3-month wilderness program to break his near addiction to technology in escaping his challenges with anxiety and depression.  At the same time, technology was critical for me as his parent to find and coordinate care across his various providers. There are millions of consumers who are using the web to learn about their condition and connect with others for support.  I believe we are at a critical juncture to embrace technology and help consumers use it productively.

What are the most importance attributes a provider must have to effectively work with consumers?

Speaking mostly as a family member across multiple generations of mental illness, I have learned that the two most important attributes of providers are empathy and openness.  Empathy is critical for getting consumers to divulge their issues. It requires warmth and compassion grounded in experience working with specific populations.  Openness means acknowledging one’s own limitations, inviting input from the consumer and family members, and collaborating with other care providers. Collaboration across therapist, psychiatrist and program manager is particularly critical.

Can you share a few thoughts about healthcare reform and the shift to value-based care?

While creating near-term financial challenges for many providers, I believe that ultimately healthcare reform and the shift to value-based care will improve behavioral healthcare in this country.  These changes are raising the visibility of the costs that mental illness and addiction impose across the medicine and social services. They are also driving new financial and organizational models of care collaboration. Near term, given the time it takes for large organizations to change, I am most optimistic about technology tools that allow today’s providers to work more closely with each other and with the consumer.

Can you highlight a few initiatives Mental Health America is working on to empower consumers in taking an active role in their care?

Having been founded by a consumer, Mental Health America (MHA) has a particular mission to empower consumers to take an active role in their care.  By leveraging technology, MHA has initiatives that reach millions of people.  Over the last year, 1.5 million individuals have explored their mental health concerns using free screening tools on the MHA website.  The May is Mental Health Month campaign leveraged social media to collect posts via #mentalillnessfeelslike to get first-hand accounts of how people live with mental illness and reached an estimated 22 million people.


Author: Kristin Battista-Frazee

Marketing consultant, writer and social worker.

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