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Improving access to healthcare

In 2021, the U.S. ranked Number 22 in countries with the best public healthcare systems, falling seven spots from 2020. The advent of COVID-19 has shined a spotlight on the increasing importance of telehealth and remote patient monitoring, but the U.S. faces some big challenges.

One major problem is the difficulty for Americans to access healthcare. There are several reasons for this:

  1. An accelerating healthcare provider shortage - A AAMC study projects a shortfall of up to 139,000 physicians by 2033.
  2. Overworked and burnt out clinicians - As demand surpasses supply, healthcare professionals are already struggling to handle patient care, even without the added stresses of COVID-19. As cited in an Amwell blog post, in a 2020 Medscape national survey of over 15,000 clinicians, 42% responded that they experienced burnout.
  3. Higher barriers for minorities and vulnerable populations to access healthcare providers - Studies show that minorities receive substantially less treatment for mental health conditions than their white counterparts, even though they are at just as much risk. One of the reasons cited by minorities for not getting mental health care is the difficulty accessing it. In fact, an African or Hispanic person, with less education, and a lower family income, is more likely to be one of the nearly 120 million Americans who live in designated Health Care Provider Shortage Areas, or HPSAs.

Mental health support in primary care

Even prior to the pandemic, the majority of primary care visits concerned mental health. According to The APA, up to 70% of primary care visits are driven by patients’ mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, and stress. This means efforts to improve access to mental health support will likely improve overall access to healthcare.

Using technology to improve access to healthcare

Technology has provided solutions for us in almost every area of life, including access to healthcare. Telehealth and remote patient monitoring are excellent ways technology has been used to increase access to healthcare. They help health providers maintain continuity of care and give access to isolated patients with unaddressed needs. These tools saw a giant leap in usage during the pandemic, and will likely continue.

Here are some additional ways technology can be used to increase access to healthcare and mental health support:

Save providers time, to increase access

One way technology can help is to offer self-guided solutions for patients. For example, evidence-based online Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) programs have proven just as effective as in-person therapy. When providers save time in dealing with patient challenges, this frees them up to see more patients, thus increasing overall access to healthcare.

Health systems can use technology to give its therapists and physicians the ability to refer patients to online CBT, through its electronic health records system. SilverCloud® by Amwell® customer partner, Kaiser Permanente, has implemented this solution successfully.

Boost the mental health of providers

The shortage of clinicians and the increased demand for health services has led to a large number of cases of overwork and burnout. In fact, the healthcare profession has higher rates of anxiety, depression, and stress among employees than in many other industries. Providing mental health support for providers is not only the right thing to do, but can also help them be more productive. This, in turn, will help alleviate some of the provider shortage gap issues.

One example of a health system end-user that helped its providers is SilverCloud customer partner, St. Luke’s University Health Network (SLUHN), a nonprofit health system with more than 16,000 employees at 12 hospitals and more than 300 outpatient locations. After identifying a need to expand mental health services to its employees, it researched options, and decided on an online CBT program. SLUHN implemented SilverCloud’s online digital mental health program, with goals in four areas: participation, clinical effectiveness, cost avoidance, and participant satisfaction rates. It achieved positive results in every area.

Increase healthcare access for minorities, and everyone

Online digital mental health programs are accessible to anyone, anywhere, at any time. This eliminates the difficulties of minorities obtaining access to healthcare in provider shortage areas. The best part? People want online mental health support. In fact, in a recent SilverCloud survey, 78% of respondents wanted mental health services and support they could access online.

Moving forward

SilverCloud is committed to improving access to healthcare.
Learn more about how our programs do that, in our Health Systems solutions page.