How to Build Better Behavioral Health Networks

Healthcare Business Today

More than 50 million Americans live with or experience mental illness, according to Mental Health America. This leads to increased disability claims, missed experiences, premature death and even suicide.

It’s a problem that needs a solution. Thankfully, recent legislation and federal investments have been made in pursuit of better support and resources for those suffering from mental illness and depression.

Added funding and other resources do ease many of the difficulties health plans face when building better behavioral health networks. However, there are still challenges associated with increasing overall numbers of in-network behavioral health providers, especially when ensuring diversity among these providers.

What needs to be done to build better behavioral health networks?

Increased Provider Numbers

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 155 million Americans are living in designated Mental Health Professional Shortage Areas. This growing problem, caused by above-average age and below-average salaries among mental health professionals, make it increasingly difficult for healthcare plans to provide their members with adequate coverage.

Telehealth services can help to ease this burden. While post-pandemic telemedicine has returned to a lower rate of 5% overall, mental health service have remained high – a rate of 40% according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. The ability to access remote care eases the burden for those living in shortage areas who would need to travel to receive the care that they need. For providers, it reduces burnout caused by long commutes and even enabling access to a more specialized subset of patients.

With the lack of overall providers, health plans are working to increase access by adding in-network providers. In fact, according to a recent AHIP survey, the number of in-network behavioral health providers increased by 48% in the last three years among commercial health plans.

Increased Access to Existing Providers

However, added in-network providers will not solve the problem alone. There are additional challenges in finding a mental health professional. From long wait lists to lack of information as to what providers are in network, patients can often grow tired of waiting – traveling long distances and paying the high out-of-pocket costs for out of network care.

They might give up seeking care altogether.

Because of this, building better behavioral health networks requires not only more in-network providers, but also accurate, up-to-date provider directories. These directories make it easier for those struggling with their mental health to find in-network providers they can access through their health plan without adding further stress.

Provider Network Management Solutions help health plans to build, maintain and organize their provider data. With complex networks, added government mandates and calls to improve efficiencies, benefits coverage and satisfaction benchmarks, while also reducing operations costs, automated network management solutions enable these outcomes with minimal internal efforts. This accurate and up-to-date provider directory information also removes a key barrier to accessing mental health care.

Increased Collaboration

Building better behavioral health networks requires a concerted effort from everyone. State and federal governments must increase funding for mental health professional trainings. Medical programs must increase their number of residency spots. Health plans must continue to increase numbers of in-network providers and their diversity. Provider network management must enable easier access for those who need these services.

Without one of these pieces, we cannot ensure the access Americans need, expect and deserve.

There have been significant improvements to mental health care prioritization in recent years. 78% of health plans have increased their reimbursement rates for behavioral health providers, and 83% are recruiting diverse providers. 2020 legislation increased the number of Medicare-supported psychiatry residency spots for the first time in decades, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

The mental health crisis in America will not be solved overnight, it is crucial we maximize our efforts that have been made. Provider network management solutions use automated and efficient processes to provide payers and patients with real-time, accurate provider data. For health plans who are adding new providers, this shortens and streamlines the onboarding process as well by automating credentialing and contracting as well.

By enabling accurate provider directories, technology provides further improvements and ease of access to the resources and services members expect from their health plans.

Behavioral health networks play a key role in providing access to mental health services to the millions of Americans who need them. While building better networks will require time and training, the healthcare industry has and must continue to work together to increase access to existing providers and collaborate on creative solutions while we work to fill the gaps.

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About the Author

Tammy Hawes is CEO and Founder of Virsys12, a Healthcare Focused Salesforce AppExchange and Consulting Partner. Hawes launched Virsys12 in 2011, with a track record of more than 25 years of executive success.

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About the Author

Michael Gardner is Chief Strategy Officer at Virsys12, a Healthcare Focused Salesforce AppExchange and Consulting Partner. With over 25 years of experience in healthcare, Gardner provides industry leadership and knowledge for Virsys12’s growth and market expansions including strategic partnerships and customer relations.