Will it work? This is one of the fundamental questions we ask when we evaluate opportunities at Healthworx, and it can be a difficult one to answer in the complex world of healthcare.
Decades of research have led to the development of various theories and models to explain the causes of behavioral health disorders. One of the more widely supported models posits the root of these disorders is not a single source but involves an intricate interplay among many factors - biological, psychological and socio-environmental - which poses unique challenges in diagnosis and treatment. With research and technology advancement and venture investment, solutions are hitting the market at an unprecedented pace. As we seek to understand and evaluate them, we ask how they are tackling core elements of behavioral health.
- Does the solution account for individual response? The complex mix of factors that contribute to the development of behavioral health disorders makes it difficult to treat them through a one-size-fits all lens. There are many people who respond very well to standardized, evidenced-based care; however, even with access to care, certain individuals may be resistant to conventional treatments or prone to relapse. The unfortunate reality is that the optimal treatment pathway can require a period of trial and error. Patients may cycle through a few programs, medications or therapists before finding the best fit. Even across similar types of treatments, the duration of treatment can differ by individual. We’re seeing two approaches in the market to account for individual response. First, instead of funneling everyone through the same program, companies are presenting patients with options by expanding their product offerings. Second, solutions are using data to personalize and customize care. In combination, these approaches will improve results.
- How collaborative is the model? Just as there cannot be a one-size-fits-all treatment model, behavioral health cannot be addressed in a silo. Behavioral health disorders rarely present individually, and often include comorbidities like other behavioral health disorders and medical conditions. When evaluating new solutions, we consider how well they integrate with existing systems of care and coordinate across the healthcare system. In our society’s evolving medical documentation, communication and referral infrastructure, these tasks are no easy feat. Still, there is opportunity for companies to get ahead of the curve and bring forward ideas that empower primary-care physicians to manage behavioral health issues, ensure streamlined collaborations between specialists, and restructure reimbursement models to incentivize these activities.
- Does the solution involve support systems? The recent pandemic highlighted the importance of human connection and community, and healthcare technology companies are taking note. Individuals function and heal most effectively within a support system and not in isolation. Despite the dramatic impact that access to a support system can have on outcomes, our current ability to unlock this incredible resource has remained limited. Solutions that efficiently involve all stakeholders beyond the patient – medical and wellness professionals, family members, friends or even empathetic peers – offer promising trends we expect to continue.
- Does the solution engage clients? Despite nationwide public health campaigns to reduce stigma and increase education, sustaining engagement in behavioral health care can be an uphill climb. Therapy is hard work and requires a high level of motivation. For treatment to succeed, engagement must be consistent. The current journey through behavioral health treatment presents more of a maze than a path: it is neither intuitive nor patient friendly. The system needs new approaches to boost engagement, and solutions that are easily accessible and low touch, but also able to triage patients to higher levels of care. Making the experience seamless and appealing might be one of the most difficult, yet rewarding, user-experience challenges today – and one of the biggest game changers.
As research and innovation advance, we will continue to see exciting upgrades in behavioral health treatment. In our review of new solutions, these factors - individual response considerations, collaboration models, support system access and engagement tactics - will help guide us to solutions that yield meaningful results.