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This is Part 2 of our blog series on Improving Access with a Leading Provider Network.
Something I hear a lot from organizations is they’ve been given a mandate to better support the emotional wellbeing of their population, whether that's employees or health plan members. This usually stems from a need to provide a superior experience with best-in-class benefits. Sourcing a mental health provider network can be a daunting task for anyone, at any organization, of any size. Where does one even begin and what evaluation criteria should be involved?
My recommendation is to always start by thinking about providing the best possible member experience.
After all, when someone has the courage to raise their hand and ask for help, you want to be sure you’ve done everything you can to reward that courage with the right support for their unique needs.
Asking the tough questions about provider networks
When a member—who is an enrolled employee or individual enrolled in your health plan—does have the courage to ask for help, these questions typically follow:
- How soon can I see a provider? (access)
- Would I trust this person to help me or my family members? (provider fit)
- Will seeing this person actually help me? (quality and outcomes)
I encourage you to evaluate your network the exact same way your members do—by asking tough questions about access, fit, and quality. Keep reading to learn how to choose a mental health solution with a provider network that provides a resounding “Yes!” to each of these important questions.
Question 1: How does the network solve for member access?
Looking for a provider network may seem straightforward. You find a network with enough providers for your employee or health plan base and then you’re good to go. But there’s more to dig into to find out if members will actually be able to get an appointment quickly, during a time when they’re available.
Here are a few key things to look for:
- Do providers actually have availability? How will members know?
- Are providers accepting new patients? Is this information accurate?
- What do the provider schedules look like?
- Do they offer direct scheduling—meaning provider availability is shown on the platform so the member has the ability to see what time slots are available, and book immediately with no phone calls or emails?
The importance of tracking time to appointment
A worst-case scenario is for a member to have the courage to admit they’re struggling and seek help, and then have to call a list of providers only to find there are none in-network who are accepting new patients, have the specialty they need, or have an appointment available. That is a demoralizing experience for someone who is already grappling with their mental health. It may convince them not to reach out and ask for help again.
Here are two things to look for in a provider network to ensure a mental health solution can help members access the care they need quickly:
- Can the network prove a low average time to first appointment? This is the best indicator of network capacity—much more than the size of a network.
- Can the network demonstrate these averages have remained sustainable over time?
Question 2: How does the network ensure a great provider match?
Therapeutic alliance is the number one predictor of clinical outcomes. This is the bond created between the therapist and their client when a collaborative relationship is established, and both parties are engaging in the work of therapy toward common goals, together. I think of it like a personal trainer at the gym. If your trainer is someone you really like, enjoy working with, and connect with, you’re much more likely to keep showing up and doing the work. The same is true in therapy. If someone can’t connect with their therapist or the therapist doesn’t understand their lived experiences, the person is more likely to think therapy isn’t for them and stop showing up.
Here’s what to look for in a provider network that can provide members with the right care:
- Ability to track the diversity of the providers in the network, in both demographics and specialty
- Visibility into the provider’s specialities, gender, and pronouns, so there’s a better chance of connection
It’s not just important to get feedback on clinical outcomes, but also how a member feels about their provider. In other words, how the experience of getting care feels to them. You need feedback and data to understand what’s working for a member and what’s not, at regular intervals.
Here’s what to look for:
- Does the member like their provider?
- Is there a way to get regular feedback about the member’s sessions?
- Do members feel like their provider understands them?
Question 3: How do you know the providers in the network are high quality?
Once you’ve figured out the time-to-care piece, direct scheduling, and whether the provider network is diverse enough to meet members’ needs, how do you know if a mental health provider is any good? I like to use a medical analogy. When you go to the doctor with high blood pressure, the doctor prescribes medication, and then you come back in a few weeks for a blood pressure recheck. If it’s in the normal range, that intervention is a success, right? In mental health, if someone has severe anxiety and it’s impairing their ability to do their job, there’s no blood test for that. So how do we know if an intervention for anxiety is working?
The answer is measurement based care—which is simply establishing baseline goals and symptoms and then tracking progress against those over time. It sounds simple, but the reality is the vast majority of mental health providers don’t use this approach.
Here’s what to look for in a provider network:
- Regular check-ins throughout the course of care, using validated screening tools
- The ability to show measurable treatment outcomes, which can be deidentified and reported back to the provider, member, employer, or health plan
- Incentives for providers who are delivering the best care
A window into Spring Health’s approach
Here’s a snapshot of what it’s like to access a provider with Spring Health. Let’s say an employee or member of your health plan has the courage to reach out for help, and accesses the Spring Health member portal. It only takes a few minutes to set up their account and take our short online assessment. In 12 minutes or less, they’re able to book their first appointment with a therapist—who they’ve chosen from a diverse provider network—within two days. During the booking process, the member sees a list of providers, complete with the therapist’s specialty, pronouns, gender, and particular areas of expertise—for example, if they have experience working with trauma, LGBTQ+ individuals, or even parents or veterans. Members also have direct access to the provider's availability within the Spring Health member platform and can see all of a therapist's upcoming time slots, which are updated in real time.
With Spring Health, members get everything we’ve discussed in this blog and more, including:
- A diverse, available provider network.
- Care Navigation—a licensed clinician who acts as a guide throughout the member’s entire mental health journey.
- Fast, reportable average time to the first available appointment—for adults, children, and medication management.
- Measurement-based care—frequent check-ins with the member, through the platform, providing feedback for both the provider and member. Members and their dependents can see how they were doing at the beginning of care and how they’ve progressed.
- Improvement in an average of 5-6 weeks.
A final reminder: member experience is number one
When something is eating away at someone and they’re brave enough to be vulnerable and ask for help, we want them to be rewarded by getting the support they need—so don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions. Lastly, I know HR leaders have a heavy load. They take a lot of flack from all sides. I hope you’re able to reach out when you need help, and get the care you need. This ensures that you can operate at your best—for yourself and the employees and members you’re supporting every day.
Get your copy of this guide to learn how Spring Health's dedicated provider network is delivering clinical outcomes and timely care.