Telemedicine Can Help Solve Our Mental Health Care Crisis

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Care for Your Mind acknowledges and appreciates the collaboration of the National Network of Depression Centers in developing this post.

Matt Mishkind, PhD, Rachel Griffin, APN 

In the age of the smartphone, communication is easier than ever. We have face-to-face conversations with people thousands of miles away and access information with the swipe of a finger. And this amazing technology isn’t just for playing Pokemon Go or posting to Facebook—it has the potential to change the delivery of mental health care in this country.
With Skype and other teleconferencing software available on every smartphone, tablet, and computer, telemedicine has become an important industry. By using technology to connect a patient and a provider at a geographic distance, telemedicine can expand access to care for underserved communities, make treatment more convenient for patients, and improve efficiency across our healthcare system.

For thousands of patients in need of mental health care, from veterans to elderly patients to those with disabilities, tele-behavioral health can offer a life-changing solution.

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Insurance Coverage Doesn’t Guarantee Timely Access to Care

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Simon F. Haeder, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Political Science, West Virginia University

With a national shortage of healthcare providers and insurance companies continually seeking to contain costs, it’s no secret that networks are shrinking. And as more patients opt into Affordable Care Act plans, there’s a lot of chatter about whether patients with marketplace plans (most of whom are lower income and rely on subsidies) face restricted access to care.

But when it comes to actually comparing these new marketplace plans to traditional commercial plans, there’s not much in the way of data. So, my colleagues and I decided to conduct a secret shopper-style survey of 743 primary care providers throughout California.

Our findings were revealing. While there was little difference between commercial and marketplace plans, both performed poorly. Less than 30% of patients—for both plans—were able to get appointments with the primary providers of their choice.

The research proved insurance coverage doesn’t necessarily guarantee timely access to care. In order for our healthcare system to improve, we must start giving patients accurate information and adequate networks so they can access the care they need and deserve.

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The Good News: You Now Have Health Insurance. But Will You Be Able to Access a Psychiatrist?

Counseling

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance

“Worsening of symptoms,” “inability to work,” “hope for the best,” “stretch my medication” are a few of the reported consequences people face when they are unable to obtain an appointment with a psychiatrist. These responses and others like it come from a survey conducted by the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) that revealed the challenges people face when their health insurance plans lack an adequate number of in-network psychiatrists. The short survey revealed that 38% of respondents were not able to make an appointment with an in-network psychiatrist and 40% believed the wait time between seeking an appointment with a psychiatrist and being seen was too long.

A mental health parity issue
DBSA and other mental health organizations have taken on this concern as a mental health parity issue. One of their goals is to advocate for solutions by identifying and defining the problem. Building on what was learned from the previous survey, DBSA is seeking more insight into the lengths individuals and families go to obtain care. To that end, we invite everyone to take our Access to Psychiatrist survey.

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New Jersey Parity Coalition Uses Multi-Pronged Strategy to Fight Insurance Plan Inequities

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Aaron Kucharski, New Jersey Parity Coalition

 What happens when there are laws on the books granting you equity, but when you try to use them as intended, you meet nothing but obstacles? That’s what many family members in New Jersey were asking when they tried to take advantage of the new mental health parity laws that increase access to care. Among those individuals was Valerie Furlong, who was seeking care for her two teenage sons. When she connected with other family members facing similar challenges, Valerie quickly learned that she was not alone in her frustration. She and others like her decided to take action against these obstructions and join forces with the New Jersey Parity Coalition.

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