Mindpath Health’s Priyanka, M.D.  discusses the 2022 outlook for quality outcomes and bridging the gap between in-person and virtual.

The year 2021 was defined by the many struggles that organizations had largely foisted on them directly or indirectly by the ups and downs of the coronavirus pandemic.

But many providers learned how to adapt to the new normal and began to tackle the even bigger challenges that a changing industry leveled on behavioral health operators.

Here are just a few of the issues that industry executives told Behavioral Health Business will define the new year — making the focus on improved outcomes a reality; figuring out which tech solutions work best for their organization; and bridging the gap between telehealth and in-person care.

Much of the change and innovation within the industry comes from insurers demanding greater value for what they pay for in the behavioral health industry.

Some also expect VC-backed startups that have dominated headlines with eye-popping funding rounds and valuations will see more scrutiny and be forced to provide evidence of improving outcomes.

Make no mistake — more change is coming to behavioral health in 2022. Read the predictions of several top behavioral health executives below.

Availability of, and access to, behavioral health services will continue to become increasingly important in our communities across the nation due to the pandemic, both as a health concern and on account of its significant derivative economic and social implications. We are seeing individuals with new diagnoses, as well as those with preexisting conditions or tendencies now requiring higher level of support as symptoms that may have started out, for example, as milder anxiety and depression, exacerbate.

Seamless coordination across the full continuum of care has long been an aspiration across the industry. Now, through implementation of digital platforms and strategic alignment across providers, we can meet patients where they are, supporting them with appropriate care along the continuum – from assessments and lower-acuity care performed via telehealth, to acute inpatient hospitalization stepping down to outpatient, followed by at-home online/app resources to maintain connection and document progress. While outcomes tracking is still relatively new to many in the behavioral health industry, we are sharing our experience and actively contributing to work groups establishing standards. We believe metrics will become increasingly decisive moving forward, as payors demand performance.

While the nation struggles with staffing shortages, as leaders in our industry we will invest in staffing excellence initiatives to drive retention and recruitment; deploy new strategies to remodel RN work to be more focused on patient care and less on administrative tasks; and collaborate with educational institutions on developing the next generation of healthcare professionals.

Endurance, rejuvenation and a focus on meeting continued challenges will be key. While no one can predict the months and years ahead, we are determined to focus on progress despite setbacks, see light in darkness, leverage opportunities and emerge stronger. After all, you never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.

— Marc D. Miller, President and CEO of Universal Health Services

With access to mental health and addiction treatment expanding significantly in 2021 as telehealth and VC funding exploded, 2022 will mark a new focus on quality and outcomes. Digital and virtual-only point solutions in mental health and addiction will be commoditized as more comprehensive, multi-modal solutions deliver the quality and outcomes that are becoming the standard. Value-based care will continue to increase as quality and outcomes can be measured and rewarded by payors and patients alike. Public perception of mental health and addiction, through vocal icons and celebrities, will be less stigmatized and lead to more people seeking care.

— Corbin Petro, CEO of Eleanor Health

While M&A activity was busy this past year, I believe consolidation will continue at a fast pace across all behavioral health platforms in 2022.

Interest in mental health tech startups will remain high but traditional providers will begin to bridge the gap between in-person and virtual care.

The labor shortage will continue to challenge the industry. The ability to engage and retain key employees such as licensed medical providers will become an organization’s secret sauce.

Payors will continue to demand more [from] providers by narrowing their networks and putting greater pressure on providers to demonstrate measurement-based care.

— Matt Morgan, President and CEO of Vertava Health

The pandemic will continue to fuel innovation and challenges in behavioral health this year. It will influence every technology improvement, investment strategy and reimbursement trend. Most importantly, it will continue to chip away at the stigma of seeking care for mental health challenges.

As rates of anxiety and depression spike across the country, providers will continue seeking solutions to expand access and deliver a broader array of quality services that improve overall outcomes. I anticipate investment trends will mirror or surpass those of 2021 and, across the country, joint ventures between acute care hospitals and behavioral health providers will continue to gain traction either in the development of new stand-alone facilities or dedicated hospital units.

I think we’ll see a continued focus on making telehealth accessible to all patients and increasing outpatient treatment options to meet the growing demand. We remain dedicated to quality inpatient care but are laser-focused on expanding our outpatient capabilities and being among the industry’s leaders in defining quality metrics as we transition to value-based care.

— Stuart Archer, CEO of Oceans Healthcare

I see 4 major themes impacting mental health in 2022:

Continued de-stigmatization of mental health conditions: 2020 and 2021 prompted the Great Awareness of how common, important and underserved mental health conditions are in the United States. With high-profile athletes, medical leaders and media figures openly talking about their personal struggles with mental illness, the common person now has a language to describe the challenges they may be experiencing and is more empowered to raise their hand and seek help.

Appreciation for the value of providers: Given the robust demand for mental services, providers more than ever become the scarce resource. Historically often undervalued and underappreciated, mental health providers will finally get the attention they deserve. They will expect more from their employers, colleagues and the local healthcare system. Provider experience/fulfillment will be the battlefield upon which the war for talent will be fought.

Standards of care: With the increased awareness of mental health conditions comes the desire to measure quality and ensure the efficacy of treatment. What is currently a Wild West of outcomes, definitions and questionnaires will coalesce into an industry standard of how we talk about quality and hold ourselves accountable for care delivery. This will be a collaboration between providers, patients and payors, and will also pave the way for the journey towards value-based care.

Brand identity: As the mental health industry evolves from one of extreme fragmentation to one where regional and national platforms have a bigger presence, differentiation between those groups will become more important and meaningful. Provider experience, patient outcomes, organizational culture and core values will become increasingly critical to define, develop and nurture.

— Gaurav Bhattacharyya, CEO of Geode Health

Regarding this pandemic and the stress-filled issues surrounding it, a widespread behavioral health trauma has occurred and massive services are required to manage the fallout. The supply side of the behavioral health services business was meeting a fraction of the demand prior to this ongoing crisis, now there is no clinician in the country without a bloated caseload. As behavioral services become relatively more scarce, they will be hardest hit in the poorest areas where the need is greatest. Without an enormous investment in behavioral health clinical development in all categories, we will continue to see historic highs in all of the worst behavioral metrics such as overdose deaths, suicides, and homicides. Expanded use of care models that leverage clinician expertise in managing caseloads will help solve this short-term impossible supply/demand imbalance. 2022 behavioral health will see growth in clinical development and education, the continued expansion of home and community-based services and technology.

— Franklin Roemer, CEO of Seaside Healthcare

Looking ahead to 2022, a key driving force in managing the surging need for mental health care is to not only think of how we take care of patients, but also how we take care of our clinicians. In the last several months we have seen the need for mental health care grow exponentially, to the extent that our supply of available clinicians is going to stretch itself to the seams and still not be able to keep up with the demand. This has created a need for innovative thinking on solutions that do not require clinicians to directly engage with patients. Digital therapeutics are emerging with more evidence to support use in several mental health conditions. It will allow us to expand access in underserved areas, fill gaps in treatment and equip patients with the ability to track and manage their progress.

The increase in a need for mental health care has also put a strain on the clinical community. Burnout had been an issue before the COVID pandemic started, but it has come to the forefront like never before. As we head into the third year of this pandemic, we must consider the impact this will have on the field of mental health care where the turnover rate is already exceptionally high. Taking care of our clinical community will have to be a priority if we are going to aspire to best meet the needs of our patients.

Dr. Priyanka, Medical Director of Mindpath Health

The larger field of behavioral health and addiction treatment specifically has been on a path of rapid innovation, consolidation and forced evolution for the past five years but it is my position that we are now entering what will potentially be the most intense and demanding time of our generation. In the next 3-5 years, providers will have no choice but to enter alternative payment contract models that are driven by outcomes rather than volume if they want to remain in the game. Provider reimbursement will hinge upon the effective management of risk while increasing impact and outcomes. As a result, providers will have no choice but to develop robust and accurate quality tracking systems with the ability to provide live feedback that not only maximizes outcomes but manages risk and expense. Concurrently, patients have more choices than ever and are in the unique position to demand and deserve excellence, comfort, professionalization and outcomes that will drive their treatment choice. The increased complexity and competitive nature of client acquisition may make the operation of small facilities unviable forcing continued market consolidation and program closure. It will only be providers that plan strategically and successfully execute complex innovation that will be standing the test of time.

— Tom Britton, CEO of the Gateway Foundation

The behavioral healthcare response to the post-COVID world has been highlighted by dramatic innovations in care delivery thanks to advancements from providers, payors, and regulators. Now that most new norms are established, we anticipate a cooling-off period, where stakeholders step back and evaluate the efficacy of new and expanded approaches to treatment, including telehealth, asking if any of these new pathways actually work. As a result, treatment providers will need to place a clearer emphasis on measurement-based care and publishing long-term patient outcome data, thereby offering a level of transparency that the behavioral health industry has typically lacked in the past.

Relatedly, the industry will trend toward new norms around digital health strategies, with recovery support tools becoming increasingly common, low-cost methods to supplement core treatment services. The macroenvironment, including the tightening labor market, will require organizations to place a premium on employee experience, thereby professionalizing and enhancing workplace culture and team-based care delivery. Specifically for clinicians, prospective employees will demand the delivery of high-quality clinical supervision and mentorship, as new clinicians and more-seasoned veterans alike want the experience of being invested in by their employers. In parallel, higher levels of consumerism will drive better patient experience and require antiquated, punitive treatment models to be revised and restructured or risk going out of business.

— Navdeep Kang, Chief Clinical Officer of BrightView Health

As a result of COVID-19 and the pandemic, a prediction for 2022 will be increased interest in keeping populations healthy for the long term. Investing in behavioral health care can substantially impact population health and positively impact medical and surgical spend downstream. By reviewing community health needs assessments, health care leaders can identify gaps in mental health services as well as opportunities to expand their services and/or develop partnerships in the behavioral health space to meet the needs of the community and provide a continuum of care. Through partnerships, hospitals and health systems can provide turnkey and cost-effective solutions for patients that pay great dividends in the long term.

— Harsh Trivedi, CEO of Sheppard Pratt Health System

Employees are the only sustainable competitive advantage in the healthcare space. As we look at the future of addiction healthcare, quality, passionate employees will be a game-changer. Helping our patients live a life of sobriety is impossible without quality employees. While every employer is struggling with this right now, we’ve implemented a few things we hope will help.

We believe that in order to hire and retain quality employees moving forward, companies, including ourselves, will need to offer a range of benefits and opportunities. We’ve started by providing transparent and predictable compensation practices, career growth opportunities, student loan reimbursement, an employee referral program, Health Savings Account employer contributions, unlimited PTO, and 401K matching. These initiatives are meant to systemically help both our employees and their families over the long term. Additionally, we are expanding employee engagement committees to advise and provide feedback on executive-level decisions.

— Nick Losole, Chief People Officer of Landmark Recovery

To read the full article on Behavioral Health Business about the 2022 outlook for quality outcomes and bridging the gap between in-person and virtual, click here.

Priyanka Priyanka, M.D.

Fresno, CA

Dr. Priyanka is a board-certified psychiatrist. She attended medical school in India and came to the United States in 2006 to continue her education. She first attended the Nutrition and Dietetics program at Syracuse University and then joined the psychiatry residency program at the University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, New York. She joined Mindpath Health after finishing her ... Read Full Bio »

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