Breaking down barriers to care – Behavioral health goes digital

May 12, 2023 | Education

By Dr. Donald Tavakoli – National Medical Director for Behavioral Health – UnitedHealthcare

Anxiety affects nearly 30 percent of people at some point in their lives and often goes hand in hand with depression, which affects about 16 million American adults a year. To add insult to injury, studies show that four in 10 U.S. adults who needed mental health treatment in the last 12 months did not get it.

As these numbers continue to climb, accompanied by a flood of demand for mental health care, access to virtual behavioral health care resources may help to address unmet patient need.

Why are so many people with anxiety and depression going untreated?

The reasons are complex and numerous, but stigma, cost, convenience and access to affordable resources are among some of the factors impacting Americans’ ability to get help for their concerns or illnesses. Furthermore, people are often unsure as to whether their feelings require treatment or if it’s situational and something that can be managed through other means, such as changes in lifestyle.

Are the answers in the Cloud?

Virtual care, also referred to as telehealth, may be part of the solution. These resources have steadily gained popularity over the last few years and continue to accelerate —with technological advancement attempting to meet demand. According to the FAIR Health monthly telehealth tracker, telehealth accounted for 5.5 percent of medical claims in the U.S. in December 2022, and mental health conditions accounted for 62.5 percent of diagnoses—the top overall diagnosis.

Virtual resources range from video chatting with your primary care physician to texting with a bot for your prescriptions or supplementing mental health care through easily downloadable apps. Virtual care has clear benefits—it’s designed to be convenient, affordable and allows users to get care where and when needed.

Not every situation calls for telehealth and digital solutions are still being studied for how they may fit into overall care planning for individuals, but virtual behavioral health services may play a role in helping to alleviate the mental health crisis.

Consider these three quick tips for evaluating what works best for you:

Tip #1: Establish your preferences.

Take inventory of what may be of interest for you in terms of care. Not sure? That’s OK.  Start with asking yourself the following questions:

  • Do you wish to be assessed by a licensed professional for your mental health?
  • Would you prefer in-person or virtual care?
  • Do you have preferred therapy approaches?
  • Can the mental health professional prescribe medication, or do they collaborate with a psychiatrist who will see you if deemed appropriate?
  • Do you seek focused problem solving like personalized coaching, rather than treatment?

Tip #2: Speak with your primary care physician.

When considering seeking help, your primary care physician (PCP) can be a great ally and guide—even if you want to explore virtual mental health options. Discuss with your PCP your pre-established goals so they can help point you in the right direction, but it’s also OK if you don’t know exactly what you need. Increasingly, PCPs are interconnected with virtual providers, giving you a holistic approach to your care. Collaboration between primary care teams and mental health specialists has great value, and there is good evidence that your whole-body benefits from mental well-being.

Tip #3: Speak with your insurance provider.

When speaking with a customer advocate, describe the care you’d like to receive and ask about available options. They can explain the services that are reimbursed and offer a list of therapists that are covered in-network, helping you understand your choices and keep costs down.

Don’t wait to seek mental or behavioral support for yourself or those around you – resources are available.



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