By Katie Brenneman, Writer, Researcher
Healthcare and technology go hand-in-hand. Without technological advancements, we wouldn’t see the level of patient care we’re at today. However, health IT can’t slow down. It can improve the integration of primary care and mental/behavioral healthcare.
Behavioral health focuses on the prevention and treatment of mental health and substance abuse. To say the country is currently facing a behavioral health crisis is an understatement. The COVID-19 pandemic created huge spikes in mental health issues across the country. Beyond that, underrepresented groups aren’t easily able to access behavioral health providers thanks to things like racial disparities and limited insurance coverage.
Technology can bridge that gap. Let’s take a look at why it’s essential to work towards integrated behavioral healthcare through technology, and some of the best options that are already available.
Breaking Down Barriers
We touched above on the fact that behavioral healthcare isn’t readily available to everyone. Unfortunately, racial disparities have a lot to do with that. Some of the biggest barriers people of color face include:
- Social stigma
- Mistrust of the medical establishment
- Communication gaps
Technology can work to break down these barriers in a variety of ways. First, integrated behavioral healthcare through technology can make it more accessible to people of all groups – including those in underserved communities. Perhaps more importantly, technology gives providers the opportunity to increase their cultural competence and foster better health literacy. When they have the ability to better understand cultural differences and needs, it can reduce stigma within the realm of mental health.
Race isn’t the only factor that can keep someone from getting the mental health care they deserve. Many of today’s seniors struggle with mental health issues, including depression and loneliness. Unfortunately, according to Aging.com, “Some seniors may be hesitant to start therapy for several reasons, including: financial cost, mobility issues, [and] social stigma.” However, most seniors are comfortable with their primary care provider. Using technology to integrate behavioral health into primary care can help older individuals get the mental support they need.
How Technology Is Already Helping
Technology already plays a key role in integrated behavioral healthcare. Two of the biggest (and most important) successes so far are teletherapy and mobile care.
Teletherapy isn’t necessarily new. However, it saw an extreme rise in popularity throughout the pandemic. Since then, it’s become an effective way to meet the mental health needs of patients who might not otherwise get those services. Teletherapy allows patients to work with a professional from the comfort of their homes. That’s especially helpful for the communities we touched on earlier, but it also makes a difference for people who live in rural communities, or who struggle with mental health conditions so severe that it’s hard for them to venture out.
Mobile care is also becoming more prominent and useful, thanks to a few key benefits. Some of the advantages of mobile care include:
- 24/7 support
- Reduced costs
- Greater interest
Mobile mental health apps can also serve as an introduction to mental health care for some people who might be hesitant to get help. Texting and broadcast messaging via mobile are great ways to stay engaged with patients and promote different mental health services. It’s a non-invasive way to keep reminding people to take care of their mental well-being and get support if they need it. Those subtle reminders can go a long way, especially when they’re sent to a device everyone carries.
We can expect these types of technology to continue to grow and become more popular when it comes to behavioral healthcare. By utilizing these, and other technological advancements in the future, the stigma surrounding mental health issues can finally fall, and people from all walks of life can receive the help they deserve.