Telemedicine

Managing Chronic Disease: The Role of Telebehavioral Health

According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, U.S. healthcare spending has reached a whopping $3.5 trillion in 2018. Of this amount, $7 out of $10 is spent on the diagnosis and management of chronic diseases like high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and stroke. Worse yet, a lot of this money is spent on high-priced hospital care following catastrophic – though preventable – health episodes like a diabetic crisis or heart failure.

Indeed, outcomes for patients with chronic conditions are often poor. Why? Because even with the best medical treatment, a big part of the equation is often overlooked: patients’ mental health.

Comorbid Conditions

When you consider the high incidence of depression, anxiety and substance abuse among patients with chronic illness, it’s clear that mental health is a critical factor. In fact, mental health disorders increase the risk of developing a chronic condition – and vice versa. Comorbidity, defined as the presence of more than one condition in the same patient, is not the exception. It’s the rule.

For example, research shared by the National Institutes of Health reveals that depression is 2-3 times higher in diabetics than the general population. Of course, people who are depressed often have difficulty caring for their health. They may lack the motivation to take prescribed medications or monitor their insulin levels, eat the right foods, exercise or even seek care when they need it. Sadly, this can lead to a catastrophic medical event requiring costly hospital care, not to mention a vicious cycle of depression and poor disease management.

A report from Psychiatric Times shows a direct link between obesity and mental illness, especially depression and anxiety. Meanwhile, State of Obesity’s annual report reveals that obesity is one of the biggest causes of preventable chronic conditions in the United States and a major driver of healthcare expenses, responsible for of $147-$210 billion each year. The report also links obesity with job absenteeism – to the tune of $4.3 billion annually – along with diminished productivity in the workplace.

Moreover, many medical treatments for chronic conditions may actually exacerbate mental health issues. Some medications may cause weight gain. Others have a direct impact on mood and irritability. Such side effects can degrade patients’ quality of life even further and reinforce the vicious cycle.

The Promise of Behavioral Healthcare

Fortunately, behavioral healthcare is a proven method for helping chronically ill patients address underlying mental health issues that may be impacting their physical health. Treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy can help patients improve their adherence to their medical care plan, develop healthy coping mechanisms, improve their diet and physical activity, cut out alcohol and substance use, and modify other behaviors that threaten their physical health and make chronic conditions worse.

Indeed, treating patients’ mental health has the potential to drastically improve quality of life while also cutting exorbitant healthcare costs.

The Business Benefits of Mental Health

It’s no surprise that more businesses than ever are adding behavioral health to their benefits packages. The trickle-down impacts are clear: improved wellbeing, increased productivity, lower costs, happier employees and a positive workplace culture.

However, employers are plagued by the same access issues that affect the rest of the country. High costs, extremely narrow networks, a nationwide provider shortage and even the stigma of seeking care make it difficult for employees to access the mental health services they need.

How Telebehavioral Health Can Help

Telebehavioral health solves all of the barriers of traditional mental healthcare, overcoming limitations of geography, limited provider networks and the stigma of mental health treatment. With virtual care, businesses can help improve employees’ mental wellbeing while increasing productivity and boosting the bottom line.

Among numerous studies demonstrating its efficacy, The Association for Behavioral Health and Wellness reports that telebehavioral health is effective in treating depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions. Moreover, it improves medication adherence and reduces hospitalization by as much as 30% in people with medical comorbidities.

Among the features of telebehavioral health:

  • Quick and convenient access to mental health services
  • Mitigates provider shortage issues, especially in areas where mental health professionals are scarce
  • Sessions can be scheduled at the employee’s convenience and in the privacy of their own homes, (or wherever else they choose), removing barriers associated with stigma

Learn more about MeMD’s telebehavioral solutions.

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