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Hazards of Digital Mental Health, Telehealth Visits Skyrocket for Older Adults-The HSB Blog 8/24/20

The hazards of digital mental health

Event: Mobihealthnews examined the lack of scientific evidence backing digital mental health apps, noting “investors and entrepreneurs alike are pouring record time and resources into digital health” including almost $600 million into behavioral health. With the explosive growth in digital mental health services, concerns have arisen due to unclear evidence of whether or not their products actually work.

Background: Many digital health companies are introducing products to the market without showing if their solutions work, publishing their raw data or publishing for peer review. This leaves many health professionals uncertain when recommending digital health treatments to patients. This is due in part to the fact that only 18% of psychiatrists use measurement-based care due to lack of time, training, and the sense scales don’t capture the diverse phenotypes of mental illness.

Implications: The success of many digital mental health companies is determined by their financials and operation rather than how effective the treatments are for patients Healthcare researchers, clinicians, and technologists have to collaborate and use measurement-based care to ensure there are effective digital mental health products out in the market as care increasingly moves to virtual settings.

Telehealth visits have skyrocketed for older adults, but concerns remain

Event: The University of Michigan released its National Poll on Healthy Aging (NPHA) noting in 2019, many older adults expressed at least one serious concern around the usage of telehealth services. Since COVID-19, telehealth has become a much more popular option among older adults due to underlying health risks and closed medical facilities.

Background: After states mandated reductions in elective and non-emergency healthcare, the University of Michigan conducted a poll finding that 30% of older adults participated in telehealth services by June 2020. Comfortability in using telehealth services increased by 11%, and privacy concerns have dropped significantly. Older adults have a growing interest in telehealth, but lack experience or access which remain barriers to receiving care.

Implications: Many older adults have limited experience and aptitude with digital health technologies and may need additional help to gain comfort with the quality of communication and privacy. Some older adults continue to express concerns about telehealth visits, particularly regarding the quality of care compared to in-person visits and the inability for a physical exam. Until these issues are addressed, some older adults may be hesitant to engage in telehealth visits.

Large U.S. employers focusing on virtual care, mental health services in 2021

Event: The Business Group on Health published its 2021 Large Employers' Health Care Strategy and Plan Design Survey noting the Covid-19 crisis has caused employers to re-evaluate and expand the benefits offered to their employees. These benefits include virtual mental health and emotional well-being services which are projected to increase in the upcoming year.

Background: In the past, employers covered nearly 70% of healthcare benefits for their employees. Due to the increase in virtual health usage, employers are set to expand their virtual health options, offering telehealth services, mental health services, and minor, acute conditions. Additionally, 45% of employers have included mental and behavioral health training for managers to ensure mental health issues are recognized and dealt with during this unprecedented time.

Implications: The increase in the use of telehealth services has opened the doors for more virtual solutions with both employees and providers seeing benefits and embracing these solutions. This report reinforces the importance of employee health during the pandemic, noting that with 2021 rapidly approaching, employers should focus on further expanding telehealth platforms and providing additional training on awareness and usage.

Uncovering the real value of the benefits you offer

Event: A recent article in Benefits Pro, highlighted that employees’ well-being not only improved from utilizing health benefits, but also from being offered health benefits by in effect providing them peace of mind. Citing Fidelity Investments report, “Uncovering the real value of the benefits you offer,” the article pointed out “if 2020 has shown us anything, it’s that this is not a typical year and arguably, we are approaching the most important annual enrollment we will ever experience in our lifetime.”

Background: Fidelity’s Health Solutions Group took a more holistic view of value that can guide employers to make more informed decisions on how to improve their benefits offering. In part, they found not all benefits actually have to be used to be effective, and employers offering mental health, life insurance, and remote added value by demonstrating they had the employees’ best interests in mind. HSAs, telemedicine and parental leave, however, need to actually be utilized to improve well-being

Implications: Understanding the difference between awareness and utilization of benefits can help employers dig deeper into which benefits they should focus their attention on. One in four companies have changed employee health benefits since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March, complicating the upcoming 2020 annual enrollment period

The “at-home” shift continues to accelerate

Event: Salesforce announced they would let employees work from home until August 2021, offering additional benefits to purchase office supplies to work from home and more paid time off. At the same time last week, retailers such as Home Depot, Target, and even digital laggard Kohl’s reported that eCommerce sales came in above expectations.

Background: Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff has been one of the most forward-thinking CEOs in terms of COVID, laying out an 8 point plan to deal with COVID and developing the “” website to help companies bring employees back to offices safely. In terms of retail sales, while eCommerce sales have benefitted from COVID lockdowns, many had expected this to begin to level off as a number of states had permitted physical stores to reopen during the quarter (May-July).

Implications: The “At-Home” (work at home, shop at home) shift is not slowing down and may in fact be accelerating further solidifying the secular change to a hybrid delivery model of customer engagement (in-store, online, mobile). While some providers are focusing on an “outbound care” delivery model (bringing the care to patients) the vast majority continue to focus on an “inbound care” delivery model, (having patients come to offices, clinics, and physical facilities) and risk missing another paradigm shift.


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