Audio Journal

Episode 4 - Market Drivers for Technology in Mental Health and Addictions Treatment

Podcast Transcript:

Every president since Bill Clinton has tried to tackle the question of how to improve healthcare in America, but the government can't seem to find its footing with a solution that pleases everyone. But quietly, private enterprise has been advancing the ball in medical care by introducing new insurance models, concierge medicine and technology solutions to make access to healthcare more streamlined and cost effective.

These advances, driven by the private sector, are dropping the cost of accessing primary care, allowing people to get connected from the privacy of their home, and making it less likely that they will readmit after a stay in the hospital. Unfortunately, the world of mental health and addictions treatment has not yet taken advantage of technology in the treatment process. Addictions and mental health patients just don't have access to the same digital experiences that streamline treatment, lower cost, and reduce the chances that they will readmit needing more acute care.

In this audio journal, we will take a look at the drivers in the mental health and addictions treatment world that make having a technology strategy essential and not optional as we go into 2020. Let's look at what is going on in the marketplace that make incorporating technology into treatment an important trend.

Number one is a severe shortage of treatment professionals.

The shortage of mental health professionals in the United States is a huge and growing problem, especially as the country continues to move towards realizing the importance of mental health treatment. In the U.S., nearly 1 in 5 people have some sort of mental health condition, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. A 2016 report released by the Health Resources and Services Administration projected the supply of behavioral health workers to be approximately 250,000 people short of the projected demand by 2025. The bottom line is there are just not enough people to treat those that need it. Technology has the potential to make the professionals that we do have more efficient and better able to treat more clients using solutions like telehealth appointments.

Unfortunately, the opioid crisis is driving demand

The need for more effective and accessible substance abuse treatment has increased with the opioid addiction epidemic, specifically in more rural areas. The numbers are alarming. It is estimated that over 10 million people in the US currently abuse opioids with 130 people dying each day from overdose. And the crisis is more acute in remote areas that have many residents who been come addicted and need to be treated. Unfortunately, those areas are less attractive to treatment professionals. However, connecting to patients remotely with telehealth appointments or other virtual options allow the professional to be anywhere and have a conversation with a patient that needs their help, even in harder to reach areas.

Some patients just can't get to a treatment professional.

Patients who have been treated and are recovering at home, patients who are not mobile because they lack adequate transportation, have lost their license, and who live in rural, remote areas often can't make it to their appointments. As long as a patient has a way to connect to the internet, telehealth enables them to access therapists, recovery coaches and support groups.

There is definitely a need to reduce stigma and increase privacy with some patients.
While there's a broader acceptance that addiction is a disease that requires treatment and other mental health disorders often come with the landscape, stigma is still a problem for some patients. Often, the shame and stigma associated with the disease is more crippling than the disease itself. Access to treatment through telehealth solutions can offer patients more options to ensure their privacy is protected. Weekly therapy appointments or group support meetings could be done over the web from home or after work hours so patients can maintain their privacy.

Staying connected reduces relapse.
It's a fact that the relapse rates after an in-patient rehab stay are 85% in the first year, often in the first few months following treatment. We would never accept these poor results for any other medical treatment, but it's become the norm in the world of addiction treatment. Although there is not a consensus about why so many people relapse, one statistic is clear: the longer a person stays connected to the program that offered rehab treatment, the lower the relapse rate is. Technology offers the opportunity to automate the extended care process, keep patients connected longer and improve outcomes.

Offering technology solutions as treatment options makes it easier to produce outcome studies.

When someone comes out of a 30-day rehab, they look healthy, have drugs out of their system and start the recovery process. So, ask a treatment program how that person is doing a year from now, the true test of treating a chronic disease successfully, and most programs will not be able to tell you. If programs were able to extend treatment, follow their clients, and use technology to measure how people are engaging and recovering, then measuring the effectiveness of the treatment would be easier. Technology provides the opportunity for data driven solutions to understand patient outcomes.


The addiction and mental health industries can no longer afford to ignore the technologies that are transforming medical healthcare. There are too many patients and not enough therapists to keep up with everyone that needs help with technology being one of the best solutions to create efficiencies to treat more people with less resources. Beyond that, patients need better ways to access treatment remotely, reduce the cost of treatment, maintain their privacy, and keep connected to treatment longer.