Role of technology in response to COVID-19 is a tipping point for virtual behavioral health services
The use of virtual delivery channels could expand treatment to 53 million Americans suffering from behavioral health issues, according to a new report from Accenture (NYSE: ACN).
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Accenture 2020 Behavior Health Consumer Survey (Graphic: Business Wire)
The report, "Breakthrough Behavioral Health Access: Think Virtual," is based on a survey of more than 3,400 people in the U.S. diagnosed with or having symptoms related to specific behavioral health conditions such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress syndrome, attention deficit disorder or reported themselves as having addiction or substance abuse issues.
Current data indicates that nearly 58 million adults and 8 million youth between the ages of six and 17 in the U.S. have mental health and/or substance use disorders, yet only 43% of affected adults are receiving treatment for them. Four in five respondents (81%) of the Accenture survey said they would either definitely or probably engage in a virtual channel to manage their behavioral health condition. Applying this finding to the 66 million adults and youths impacted by these disorders suggests that virtual channels could expand care to approximately 53 million people. Furthermore, the number of people with such conditions is likely to rise due to the current environment of COVID-19, record unemployment, and widespread social unrest.
"The behavioral health crisis in the U.S. isn’t new, but the pandemic is clearly exacerbating it," said Rich Birhanzel, a senior managing director at Accenture who leads the company’s Health practice globally. "The rapid expansion of virtual care models during lockdown in the current pandemic created new expectations for effective and reliable healthcare at a distance. While our research found that only 38% of respondents hadn’t been widely using a virtual channel for such treatment in the prior three years, they’re now overwhelmingly willing to do so."
Among the channels respondents said they’d be willing to use include on-demand videos (cited by 55%), webchat (63%), individual therapy via voice (59%) and individual therapy via voice plus video (56%).
The research shows younger patients are much more likely than older ones to engage in virtual behavioral health services. The report notes that this is critical insight for employers as they develop their workforce and talent strategies, particularly since millennials comprise the largest percentage of the U.S. labor force, followed by Gen Zers.
In addition to improving people’s lives, better access to care and treatment is a potential breakthrough in terms of overall outcomes and medical spending as behavioral health patients typically have co-occurring medical conditions and as a result, can have two to three times the amount of associated health expenditures. Related Accenture analysis shows that even a 1% increase in treatment for behavioral health disorders in the U.S. could yield as much as $2.4 billion in medical cost savings annually, due largely to the fact that individuals with behavioral health conditions often have other medical conditions.
The report notes three fundamental factors that healthcare providers should consider to remain relevant and responsive to consumers’ needs:
Control the personal cost. Four in 10 respondents (44%) said they would only use such channels if the services are provided at low or no cost to them. Public and private organizations sponsoring these solutions will need to think through how to lower costs to consumers—particularly those in need.
Orbit around experience. Beyond cost, consumers want convenience and a positive user experience. While consumers are hungry for behavioral health services through virtual channels, the design of the programs and consumers’ experiences will make or break adoption no matter the demand.
Make all the connections. Coordination and integration of care with a whole-person approach is critical. Services should be offered in context of individuals’ physical health, and data-sharing and interoperability among different healthcare stakeholders are critical to providing the most effective care.
"COVID-19 has increased the demand for virtual health services nearly overnight," Birhanzel said. "By adopting virtual services into behavioral health, we can improve outcomes and make treatment more accessible — reducing overall costs for payers, providers and the entire healthcare system."
About the Accenture 2020 Behavioral Health Consumer Survey
For the Accenture 2020 Behavioral Health Consumer Survey, Accenture surveyed 3,448 US consumers ages 13 and over to better understand attitudes and behaviors related to virtual health options for treating mental health conditions and substance abuse issues. All survey respondents were either diagnosed with and/or had symptoms related to specific mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, ADD/ADHD, or reported themselves as having addiction issues. Survey respondents received anonymity and represented a cross-section of the population based on age, location, ethnicity, insurance coverage, gender and income. The survey was conducted by Dynata in May and June 2020.
Accenture is a leading global professional services company, providing a broad range of services in strategy and consulting, interactive, technology and operations, with digital capabilities across all of these services. We combine unmatched experience and specialized capabilities across more than 40 industries — powered by the world’s largest network of Advanced Technology and Intelligent Operations centers. With 513,000 people serving clients in more than 120 countries, Accenture brings continuous innovation to help clients improve their performance and create lasting value across their enterprises. Visit us at www.accenture.com.
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