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Partnership to Destigmatize Patient Access to Mental Healthcare

The partnership between Sutter Health and MHA will create a digital tool that facilitates patient access to mental healthcare.

patient access to mental healthcare

Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- California-based Sutter Health and Mental Health America have forged a partnership to make it easier and more comfortable for patients to access mental healthcare.

Nearly 40 million American adults live with some sort of mental of behavioral health concern, but over half of adults don’t receive treatment, Sutter Health and MHA said. In addition to common healthcare access barriers – cost and convenience – patients managing a mental health issue lack awareness about treatment options or go without treatment because of social stigma and prejudices.

Sutter Health and MHA plan to overcome those barriers by creating two joint programs to streamline patient access to mental healthcare that is convenient, secure, safe, and confidential. The pair plan to overcome specific mental healthcare stigma barriers by providing early screening and public health education to normalize the prevalence of mental health concerns.

Sutter Health will provide initial funding to MHA to create the Screen-to-Supports (S2S) tool, which will connect patients with mental health treatments and support systems. The technology will customize patient results and go beyond the scope of similar tools MHA has developed in the past, the two organizations said.

The S2S tool includes four key domains:

  • Evidence-based mental health information that is tailored to specific patient characteristics
  • Links to online resources, telehealth, and in-person consults
  • Patient-facing tools for developing coping mechanisms and tracking symptoms and other concerns
  • Peer-to-peer support via social community

READ MORE: Mental Healthcare Access Shrinks as Patient Demand Grows

Sutter Health and MHA plan to deploy the S2S tool in the fall.

Sutter Health will also integrate the National Certified Peer Specialists (NCPS) program into its workforce. A product of MHA, the NCPS allows peers and laypeople to gain accreditation in offering mental healthcare support to those in need. This ensures that all specialists are qualified and have the skills necessary to help patients. Ideally, this will help strengthen Sutter Health’s workforce and will fill care gaps in both public and private care settings.

Sutter Health and MHA also plan to create in-person patient education programs and workplace mental health strategies. These programs will target suicide and self-harm, and will begin in the Northern California area. Ideally, these programs will spread throughout the country, the two organizations said.

These programs are aimed at reducing the social stigma and prejudice that keep patients from accessing the mental healthcare they need, explained Sutter Health CEO of Mental Health Services John Boyd.

“This is just the beginning of actions we are taking at Sutter Health to be a national leader in eliminating social prejudice and stigma around mental health and providing real solutions within our communities,” Boyd said in a statement. “It’s more urgent than ever to put mental health on par with physical health, and MHA’s philosophy aligns with our integrated care approach to address all of our patients’ – and employees’ – needs.”

READ MORE: Understanding Mental Barriers to Patient Medication Adherence

Additionally, these tools will allow patients to get help before their mental health becomes dire, stated MHA President and CEO Paul Gionfriddo. Just as with physical health, it is integral for patients suffering from mental health concerns to receive early intervention to quell concerns before their health becomes unmanageable.

“As people have more options to seek support, it can lead to earlier interventions before mental health challenges escalate into crisis situations,” Gionfriddo said. “By teaming up with a leading health care organization like Sutter Health, we can continue working to address mental illnesses before they reach crisis stage –as we say, before Stage 4 –and offer broader access to services for people to change the trajectory of their lives.”

MHA has been working to improve mental healthcare access in several different arenas lately. In May, the organization partnered with the VA to help the agency’s constituents receive easier access to early intervention programs.

The deal involved different programs hosted by different leaders between MHA and the VA, all geared toward education, early care access, and reducing stigma. Veterans disproportionately suffer from mental health concerns, but rarely receive adequate treatment due to lack of availability and social prejudice.

MHA’s offerings have proven effective in the past, showing promise in both the VA and at Sutter Health. Per data released in May 2017, MHA saw success in improving preventive mental health services in a partnership with Walgreens.

READ MORE: Strategies for Rural Patient Healthcare Access Challenges

One year following program implementation, MHA and Walgreens saw 75 percent of patients who visited an online screening platform complete the screening and taking steps necessary to support any arising concerns.

“Our online screening program is often a critical first step for people who have mental health concerns, and because of this collaboration, we’ve seen a more diversified group of visitors to our site, including older generations and caregivers, as well as people who have had a prior mental health diagnosis,” Gionfriddo explained.

Going forward, MHA aims to mirror those results with Sutter Health, helping patients in the Northern California area, and eventually across the country, receive easier and less stigmatized treatment for mental and behavioral health concerns.

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