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In just a few years, workplace mental health has dramatically shifted to the forefront of discussions on work and well-being. Amid this rapid evolution, HR leaders increasingly recognize mental health as a focal point—but often encounter ineffective solutions that fall short.
Companies are searching for effective employee mental health solutions. They may have explored changing EAP vendors, reducing mental health stigma, communicating benefits to their employees, and upgrading mental health benefits with their health plans. While these initiatives signify progress, their success is constrained without a genuinely effective mental health solution.
Against this backdrop, these are the three foundational pillars for measuring an impactful employee mental health solution:
- Provider matching
- Quality of care
Let’s explore each pillar, along with how each one can connect employees to mental healthcare that is accessible, utilized, and genuinely effective.
1. Fast access to care
The cornerstone of mental healthcare is access. Without access to care, there is no possibility of effective treatment. Unfortunately, many individuals seeking mental health support encounter multiple barriers to care.
Ghost networks—where listed providers may not accept new patients, are unreachable, or are not in-network as indicated—are remarkably common. In extreme cases, the term “ghost network” takes on a literal meaning, with listed providers even being deceased.
In other words, many mental health solutions lack visibility into the true availability of providers. Often, individuals facing mental health challenges are handed a lengthy list of providers and wished good luck. This scenario can be so disheartening and discouraging for someone seeking help.
What does true access look like?
Improving access goes beyond providing employees with an extensive provider network. This approach proves ineffective in connecting them to genuinely helpful mental healthcare.
One strategy for improving access involves leveraging data to understand a population’s mental health needs. By collecting data upon entry to the solution, a tailored provider network can be built to meet those specific needs.
Without insights into the number of employees seeking help for conditions such as depression, PTSD, or alcohol use disorder, a solution struggles to accurately match them with providers specializing in the relevant areas.
Real-time visibility into provider availability is key
Fast access to a provider with real-time visibility into their availability is crucial for employees seeking care. Enabling individuals to view and book appointments within a couple of days is essential for making this process effective.
To make this a reality, a solution must integrate provider availability directly into the platform, allowing individuals to see when they can schedule an appointment. There’s nothing more frustrating than summoning the courage to seek help and being unable to find the support they need. Understandably, this can cause most people to give up on therapy entirely.
2. Provider matching
The second pillar of an effective mental health solution is provider-patient matching. Fast access is insufficient without the right provider tailored to an individual’s needs. An ideal patient-provider pairing establishes the conditions for a therapeutic alliance—a key predictor of therapeutic outcomes that surpasses the type of therapy utilized, accounting for 45%-50% of outcomes.
A therapeutic alliance doesn’t imply a friendship between the individual and their provider. Instead, it signifies mutual agreements in goal-setting, therapy-type agreement, and a strong relationship. When facilitating this alliance, take into account the following data:
- Type of treatment sought by the member
- Cultural responsiveness of the provider
- Social determinants of health
- Member preferences, including gender and lived experience
Ensuring a member can quickly book an appointment is vital, but it’s equally important to avoid potential mismatches. For example, if the appointment is with a provider specializing in anxiety disorders, but the person is dealing with alcohol use issues, there’s a significant mismatch. Fast access to the wrong provider doesn’t address the core issue of access.
Ultimately, effective provider-patient matching is achieved through the thoughtful use of data.
Data is the key to provider matching
A comprehensive mental health solution must understand the expertise and skill sets within its provider network, aligning them with the diverse needs of the member population. Utilizing data is pivotal for this matching process, helping discern why someone seeks help, identify specific symptoms, and determine which provider best facilitates recovery.
This information enables individuals to explore options that align with a therapeutic alliance, demographics, availability, and personal preferences. Tailoring matches to individual needs is crucial, recognizing that preferences may differ.
For example, consider a parent whose 11-year-old child displays signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Does the parent have access to a provider with the appropriate skill set to treat the child?
The traditional approach often relies on a vast provider network, hoping that a suitable provider exists somewhere within it. However, this method essentially resembles a blind date with a mental health provider, lacking assurance of compatibility for addressing specific issues.
3. Quality of care
The third pillar of an effective mental health solution is quality. Once an individual gains access to a provider who specializes in their specific needs, the measurement of treatment quality becomes paramount.
Fast access to low-quality care isn’t the solution. Individuals might be inclined to assess a provider’s qualifications, assuming, for example, that attendance at a prestigious institution like Harvard ensures excellence.
Alternatively, a lengthy patient list and waiting queue might suggest effectiveness. While these considerations may hold some validity, a more scientific and reliable measure of treatment quality exists: measurement-based care (MBC).
MBC involves systematically collecting and evaluating symptom data at regular intervals—before, during, and after the course of care. The goal is to leverage this data to inform care decisions, adjust treatment as needed, and improve outcomes.
Measurement-based care gets us to quality treatment
Implementing MBC involves providers using clinically validated assessments at the onset of treatment to establish a baseline of symptom severity. Continuously reassessing symptom severity throughout the care journey enables providers to monitor individual progress. If improvement is lacking, it signals the need to adapt the treatment plan.
A solution can effectively gauge the quality of care being delivered by tying this longitudinal symptom improvement data to individual providers in the network.
Quality becomes tangible when a mental health solution employs validated clinical assessments to understand an individual’s symptom severity, conducting reassessments during and after the course of care. These quantitative benchmarks offer a measurable means to evaluate improvement.
Ask hard questions, seek answers with substance
As HR, benefits, and workplace leaders navigate the challenge of evaluating mental health solutions, I encourage them to focus on the three interconnected and essential components: access, matching, and quality. Each one plays a vital role and is indispensable for a comprehensive mental health solution.
Here are some specific questions to consider when assessing a potential mental health partner:
- How does the solution address access concerns?
- Do members have to sift through a long list of providers to find care?
- Do members have real-time visibility into provider availability?
- What’s the average time for the first and third appointments?
- Provider-patient matching
- Does the solution offer provider-patient matching or rely on a blind date approach?
- Is there data demonstrating an understanding of the population’s needs?
- Is the provider network continuously adapted to match the population’s evolving needs?
- Quality of care
- How does the solution vet its providers?
- Does the solution track provider outcomes over time?
- Are providers using measurement-based care and evidence-based practices?
Additionally, I highly recommend asking potential mental health partners to show their receipts by providing evidence of the solution’s value. Transparency about data, clinical outcomes, and ROI is crucial. Behind every assertion of effectiveness, real individuals seek help, underscoring the importance of getting this aspect right.
To go deeper into ROI, check out the largest study of its kind on ROI in mental healthcare—and see how a comprehensive mental health solution can reduce workplace and healthcare costs.