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How we can overcome mental health hurdles with patient engagement tools

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Jennifer Dunphy, RN, BSN, OCN, CBCN, Senior Clinical Strategist, Get Real Health

This May, mental health organizations and nonprofits across the country will wage campaigns to destigmatize mental health issues as part of Mental Health Awareness month. 

Mental health conditions are easily the most misunderstood sector of the medical profession, despite the fact that 1 in 5 Americans will suffer from a mental health disorder in their lifetime. Further, nearly every citizen will be affected by such a condition through a friend, family member or coworker.

What’s truly disheartening about these statistics is that approximately 60 percent of adults with mental health illness did not receive treatment in the previous year.  Maybe that number would decrease if it were easier to track symptoms and treat them outside facility walls.

It is estimated that the United States spends $113 billion on mental health treatment annually. The emphasis needs to be on treating the greatest number of patients while using that annual expenditure wisely.

That is where patient engagement comes in. When patients are viewed as partners in their care, they have a stake in improved outcomes. However, the obstacles in recognizing and addressing mental health issues are many. 

Here we will look at common hurdles in psychiatric care and how to best remedy them:

Diagnosis
Unfortunately, a stigma still surrounds mental health, so many are hesitant to admit to symptoms or a condition.  Yet, if given targeted resources, screenings and data through a personal health record (PHR) it can ease discomfort making the road to diagnosis and care much easier.  Ideally, patients would have access to online screenings that can be completed at home which would provide results and recommendations based on the answers given.

Finances
Owing copays for each practitioner visit can exhaust resources quickly. The ability to communicate with clinicians via secure messaging or video conferencing would alleviate this issue. The physicians save money as well because they can treat more patients utilizing this method. Technology can also ease prescription costs by allowing patients to track the success rate of previous and current medications in order to hone in on the most appropriate, effective products and dosing.

Geography
Finding a general practitioner in nearly any region, no matter how remote, is fairly simple. However, the same cannot be said for mental health clinicians.  An interactive patient portal can allow physicians to prescribe care plans, monitor adherence and make adjustments as necessary in real time. This process cuts down on the number of necessary in-person visits which is critical when traveling a distance for care.

Inaccurate data
Caregivers have long been reliant on patient-reported information to help guide care. This puts quite the burden on individuals to take notes or recall symptoms, reactions and general notations on health between office visits.  A comprehensive PHR will alleviate this burden and allow for more focused care. Tools like health journals, graphs and charts help patients spot trends in mood, sleep, responses to medications or treatment changes and biometric data.  Better yet, practitioners can track these items as well and intervene if necessary.

The use of patient-generated data in conjunction with clinical data and plans is a shift in treatment methods in the medical profession overall which is particularly effective in the mental health arena.  For instance, a patient logging hours of sleep, exercise habits and moods in an online journal may notice that they are happier for longer periods when they exercise at least 30 minutes a day. Or, that sleeping at least 7 hours leaves them feeling rested enough to get up and moving.

Overall, the key to engagement is providing patients with the right tools to track trends and symptoms and report them in real time to clinicians.

Mental health screening technology has to be simple, quick and accurate in order to be widely adopted and used effectively. It also must serve as a two-way communication bridge between the patient and physician.

In other words, the technology enables a very human conversation to ensue. It’s a great example of technology creating a path to healing that would not otherwise have easily or naturally opened up. And it’s a tool that the care team can use as often as it deems necessary with that patient – including daily monitoring and communication.

As connected health becomes more the norm, these tools are available today and offer a comprehensive view of patients’ well being – physical and mental.

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