May is Mental Health Month, a time to recognize that “staying healthy” doesn’t just mean staying healthy physically — the term also applies to our mental well-being. An initiative spearheaded by Mental Health America, this month is intended to spread awareness of mental health and work to destigmatize mental illness, goals that we can all work together to accomplish.
While emotional health is important every day of the year, Mental Health Month takes on a particular importance this year as the impacts of stay-at-home orders brought on by COVID-19 are becoming clear. Many people feel isolated, stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed by current events, creating the real potential for a mental health crisis that the healthcare industry may not be equipped to handle. Here are some important tips that every care provider should keep in mind about the emerging mental health crisis.
Be vigilant about checking on patients during this unprecedented time.
It’s no secret that quarantining at home for months on end can cause stress and anxiety levels to skyrocket. Many patients may be feeling lonely, or concerned about the threat that COVID-19 poses to their well-being. Providers have a responsibility to address these feelings and to help give patients peace of mind. Mental health is often overlooked, but is nevertheless an essential part of public health. As we’ve talked about in previous blogs,mental health and public health go hand-in-hand, making it essential that we recognize the necessity of caring for patients’ mental well-being.
According to a recent poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly half of U.S. adults have felt the coronavirus pandemic and its subsequent effects taking a significant toll on their mental health. Another survey of Colorado residents found that while only 7 percent of Coloradoans met the criteria for major depressive disorder pre-pandemic, the current percentage has soared to 23 percent. It’s difficult to reconcile the necessity of social distancing, which protects physical health and population health, with the mental health challenges it creates. As healthcare providers, we should be aware of these statistics and show an extra degree of compassion to patients during these difficult times.
Staying connected with patients and ensuring that they’re taking care of themselves is essential. This can be done by sending messages that contain important health education content or tips for protecting mental health during quarantine. We’ve attached a sample image below (courtesy of Methodist Health System) that’s just one example of a message clinics can send to patients.
Even when providers can’t see patients in person, they can communicate through text messaging and HIPAA-compliant two-way chat. Doing so gives patients peace of mind and the knowledge that providers are there for them.
Want to learn other ways you can deliver a top-tier patient experience during the COVID-19 pandemic? Check out our recent blog post.
As clinics slowly reopen, prioritizing needs and getting patients back in for care is crucial.
FQHCs, in particular, that offer behavioral health services as part of their community health center should pay extra attention to patients’ mental health needs as clinics reopen. Many community health centers, which provide care for underserved populations, are struggling to stay afloat and are taking an economic hit due to COVID-19. This threatens population health and puts the vulnerable members of our community at risk of experiencing significant mental and physical health complications.
Once community health centers are able to again operate at maximum capacity, it will be important to maximize reimbursements and maintain revenue flow. Luma Health has solutions to support clinics in doing so, and they involve leveraging patient engagement technology to increase clinic efficiency. For example, we recently introduced “Zero-Contact Check In,” a new facet of our platform that allows patients to stay socially isolated in their cars while front office staff capture and process required intake forms virtually. Patients are messaged once they can enter the clinic, allowing staff to efficiently process patients while maintaining social distancing.
Clinics should also be ready to tackle a massive backlog of appointments. In many states, non-urgent care was closed for months — and at the same time, rates of depression and anxiety have been soaring. There’s no doubt that a high number of patients will be seeking care once stay-at-home orders are fully lifted.
For providers, being prepared for an influx of patients and acting proactively is absolutely essential. We’ve compiled some suggestions for ways to reduce the burden placed on administrative staff during this stressful time, from automating scheduling processes to implementing seamless telehealth solutions. The sooner these strategies are adopted, the easier it will be for staff to adapt to the demand for behavioral health services that’s sure to come.
Embrace telehealth as part of healthcare’s “new normal.”
When it comes to behavioral health, providers aren’t one-size-fits-all. Every patient is unique — they have different needs, life experiences, and expectations for their provider. Telehealth makes it easier to accommodate these preferences by no longer limiting patients to the providers available in their geographic region. Ultimately, telehealth can help increase access to care and ensure that patients have options and the ability to meet with the right mental health provider.
Our data scientists have been poring over the millions of patient interactions housed in our platform, and the results tell a clear story: Patients are using technology to engage with their providers more than ever before. What’s more, patients want their providers to introduce telehealth platforms and to make communication more seamless.
The top priority for any telehealth implementation should be accessibility. Not all patients have laptops or have the technological know-how to navigate a complicated process full of downloads or log-ins. That’s why we designed our telehealth product to be as intuitive as possible: it requires only one click to enter a meeting room with providers. Plus, our telehealth solution can be accessed through any device a patient has available. Even when patients aren’t able to physically see their providers in person, telehealth virtual visits can keep them engaged throughout their healthcare journey and enable them to obtain needed healthcare.
Let’s all do our part.
Even if you’re not a healthcare administrator or provider, there are still a myriad of ways in which you can positively impact others’ mental health. We can all encourage our providers to implement technology that can boost the patient experience while making access to behavioral healthcare seamless.
Beyond that, we can — and should — be making time to ensure that our friends and loved ones are both physically and mentally healthy. Just because we are isolated from each other does not mean we are alone. Please remember to take care of yourself, and to stay safe and healthy!