Behavioral health is having a moment.
With the Covid-19 pandemic fading in the rearview mirror, it appears that some market trends are here to stay. For instance, the demand for behavioral health services that skyrocketed following stay-at-home orders has not fallen off. Indeed, as of the second quarter of 2022, behavioral health visits were up 18.1% from pre-pandemic levels. Reduced stigma, a growing population, the continued opioid crisis, public policy changes and improved access to care through tools like telemedicine have all contributed to the rising need for behavioral health services.
Providers are adapting to this increased demand through creative initiatives like community outreach and technology-driven solutions, but critical workforce shortages call for further innovation.
As we look to 2024, certain trends are emerging that may help organizations providing behavioral healthcare navigate an uncertain future.
Innovation and payer engagement
The dual challenges of increased demand and staffing shortages in the behavioral health space have made new technological tools a necessity. Efficient technology offers scalable solutions, enabling healthcare providers to reach and assist more individuals. Telehealth platforms, for instance, allow for remote consultations and counseling, making it possible to connect with those who may otherwise face barriers to in-person care. Mobile applications and wearable devices empower individuals to monitor their mental well-being and adhere to treatment plans, reducing the burden on an already strained workforce. Technology can also enhance the productivity of existing staff, streamlining administrative tasks, and enabling clinicians to focus more on the people in their care.
Payer engagement plays a pivotal role in fostering new technology development within the behavioral health field. When providers actively engage with payers, they can help demonstrate the effectiveness of technology, opening doors for a new incentive structure that allows for forward-thinking methods and a comprehensive approach to behavioral healthcare. For example, outcomes-based contracts with built in benchmarks can help fund modern tools that allow individuals to gain more independence and live a healthier life. As the value is established, more people will gain access to those tools, the burden on providers will be reduced and payers will have data to show other stakeholders. This collaboration between payers and providers ensures that technological advancements are not only efficient but also cost-effective, ultimately benefiting the end users who rely on behavioral health services.
Medication adherence and technology
Just as the demand for behavioral health services has risen, medications continue to be developed to address a variety of issues. Adhering to a medication regimen, particularly for individuals struggling with severe mental health disorders, consistently improves outcomes.
Changes in the way medications are administered and monitored are improving adherence for this vulnerable population. Long-acting injectables, smartphone apps, innovative packaging and even personalized pill dispensers are just some of the many technologies helping individuals manage their medications.
Innovations such as these serve as a crucial ally in alleviating the burden on behavioral health professionals when it comes to medication adherence monitoring. Through smart medication management systems, individuals can receive real-time reminders, dosage tracking, and valuable insights into their medication adherence, all without requiring constant supervision from healthcare providers. These tools empower patients to take a more active role in managing their own medication regimens, which not only enhances their sense of autonomy but also eases the workload of clinicians. By delegating routine adherence monitoring to technology, behavioral health professionals can redirect their efforts toward more complex aspects of patient care, ensuring that individuals receive the personalized attention and support they need to achieve better mental health outcomes.
Whole-person care and the role of specialized pharmacies
Long-established pharmacy chains, recognized by their household names, have traditionally been primary points of access for medication and healthcare services. However, mounting workforce shortages and operational challenges are now placing these giants of the pharmacy world under strain. This challenge is particularly concerning for a population already underserved––individuals with complex medical challenges related to behavioral and mental health, who may have difficulties advocating for themselves.
In response to deficiencies in traditional pharmacy services, specialized providers are stepping in to bridge the gap. The future is likely to bring about an even more pronounced emphasis on tailored solutions for behavioral health pharmacy. This trend is likely to manifest as an expansion of providers dedicated to meeting the unique needs of this population. Specialized providers are well-positioned to offer a more comprehensive and whole-person approach, ensuring that individuals receive the support and access to medications they require.
While technology can help address some of the hardships faced by both providers and end users of the behavioral healthcare system, it should always complement rather than replace in-person care. Technologies such as telehealth and medication management systems can enhance quality of care and provide valuable data to inform discussions, as long as individuals are not isolated or left without an in-person support team.
As we forge ahead in the behavioral health field, finding the right balance between technological solutions and whole-person care will be essential. Workforce challenges, changes to the way reimbursements work, new medication monitoring options and a laser focus on the personalized solutions that specialty pharmacies can provide are all trends to watch. The right tools and the right people will be the key to moving forward with compassionate, accessible care. With hard work and a bit of luck, the behavioral health moment will stretch on until everyone struggling with a mental health disorder is able to get the help they need.
Photo: SIphotography, Getty Images