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Q&A: The “Awesome Potential” Of Tech To Improve Behavioral Health

posted by Alicia Caramenico

on December 5, 2016

What are the opportunities and challenges of digital technology for better health? Lauren Webb, the SVP of Client Services at mental health care management company Mindoula Health, shared her insights with AHIP. Webb also spoke at AHIP’s 2016 Consumer Experience and Digital Health Forum.

What are your thoughts on the state of health care’s digital transformation?

Webb: Health care’s digital transformation is just beginning. In the late ‘90s, standard advice was “do not trust anyone you meet on the internet” or “do not post anything on the internet.” Now, it seems we cannot live without technology. We are already seeing changes in what we are willing to share online and how often we are willing to share it. In the context of health care, this can ultimately lead to better patient outcomes.

Here is why: When I go to a new doctor, they only know what I tell them, and what I tell them is only as good as my memory and what I am willing to share. What medications I have taken, their dosages and side-effects, allergies. Physicians will be so much more empowered with more robust and accurate information, delivered through health IT applications, platforms, and systems.

We are on the cusp of having more empowered. People will own their own health information and be able to get it on their phones, in their apps.

What do you want our conference attendees to take away from your remarks this week?

Webb: We at Mindoula have been focusing in an area that most others don’t – serious mental illness. Right now the industry is just starting to use technology to reach people with mild to moderate depression and anxiety. But we’re taking it to the next level – how can we use technology to help those with serious mental illnesses, and how can we help them stay well enough to stay out of the hospital?

Mental health and substance use disorders are responsible for nearly 25 percent of all worldwide disability. How can digital health technology address this enormous need for behavioral health care?

Webb: I am most excited to see the impact on how providers work. I look at my own profession of case management: It is not unusual to have a case manager with a caseload of 60, 80, 100 individuals or more. There is the constant possibility of human error. The field experiences high levels of “burnout.” The position requires a tremendous deal of organization with the case manager often personally having to manage all client needs with little to no technological or outside support.

In addition, mental health is a 24/7/365 issue; no one person can be available at all times to all other people. Case managers get ill, take vacations, and have crises themselves.

The awesome potential of digital health technology to change even this one behavioral health field is tremendous. We can streamline documentation, increase real communication between providers, decrease redundancies, and enable an engaged 24/7 connection between the case manager and patient, as well as decrease human error.

The better a case manager can be, the more likely individuals will be to engage them. Even the simple benefits of technology, such as prompts at certain times to contact certain individuals, can have a tremendous impact in case manager reliability, and therefore, patient perception.

In what ways can cutting-edge technology impact the areas of collaboration, care coordination, and patient engagement?

Webb: The most important developments are in overcoming fragmented and infrequent communication regarding a patient. For the overwhelming majority of individuals, their doctors don’t communicate with one another. While we have gotten very good at storing data, the current system we have in place does not allow the exchange of relevant, real-time data to help the patient.

At Mindoula, we engage those we serve continuously. Because we remain engaged with those we serve, we are often getting information directly from them so that we can address situations proactively as they arise. We can then communicate vital information in real time to all providers. The more reliable and effective we can be in doing this, the more likely a patient will be engaged.

Innovation is a big theme at AHIP’s Consumer Experience and Digital Health Forum. What does “innovation” mean to Mindoula Health?

Webb: For Mindoula, innovation is constantly adjusting and changing when we try something new to ensure that it is the best possible product.

It is not enough to just create something at Mindoula; we are constantly asking ourselves: Is it easy to use? Is it benefiting the lives of the individuals we serve? How can we make it better, less expensive, more impactful? To what extent is it effectively driving improved health outcomes and reduced costs? Are patients engaging with us more or less as a result of our innovations?

How – and why – should entrepreneurs, providers, health plans, and patients come together to develop meaningful digital health tools?

Webb: The “why” lies in the creation of better products and services. Entrepreneurs readily recognize that there is a host of opportunities within the field of mental health. And health plans, eager to improve efficiencies in the access to and delivery of better mental health support and services, are focused on adopting digital tools that can deliver those efficiencies.


Interested in the opportunities and challenges facing digital health technology today? Register for AHIP’s Consumer Experience & Digital Health Forum.