By Justin Hunt, MD, MS, head of psychiatry, Ginger.
From banking to healthcare to grocery delivery—businesses and organizations across multiple industries are pivoting to leverage text messaging as a way to reach consumers. And in behavioral healthcare, text-based coaching is paving the way for increased access to support. Traditionally, mental healthcare providers have only offered in-person appointments for individuals seeking care. Today, virtual services like teletherapy and telepsychiatry are gradually growing in popularity among an increasingly tech-savvy population. Now, services like text-based behavioral health coaching offer another meaningful way for individuals to get in-the-moment care.
Consumer Expectations Have Shifted
Consumers today expect instant access to mobile-first, on-demand services. A recent survey by the Harris Poll on behalf of Ginger revealed that Americans–especially Millennials–are more comfortable with the idea of being able to text for mental health support as a way to get access to care. Two-thirds of Americans (66%) say that if they were struggling with stress or life challenges, they would prefer to text immediately with a certified mental health coach who is trained to provide support if given the choice, while 34 percent would choose to wait three weeks to meet with a licensed therapist in person. This trend is strongest with the Millennial population: 69 percent would prefer to text immediately with a professional rather than wait to meet in-person.
For many consumers, a chat-based solution may be less intimidating as a first step than going in-person to see a licensed professional. Coaching is emerging as a way for individuals to access support in overcoming day-to-day challenges, reach goals, and learn skills to reduce stress. While not licensed like a traditional provider, coaches do have credentials like coaching certifications or master’s- and doctoral-level backgrounds in mental and behavioral health. And just this year, the American Medical Association approved new codes for health and well-being coaching. Individuals can work with coaches alongside a therapist and psychiatrist to receive support between appointments and sustain the progress they’re making toward personal growth. Coaching is also effective as a preventative layer of mental healthcare. At Ginger, 68 percent of our members are non-severe and don’t require intensive therapy or medication management.
Text-based Chat is the New Normal
The younger generations that are digital natives have grown up with texting and chatting online as a regular, highly expressive form of communication. It comes as no surprise that they would be comfortable expressing themselves in this way to mental healthcare providers. For them, text-based chat with a coach can help them find meaning and healing. Additionally, both therapy and psychiatry are episodic in nature—with clinicians meeting clients bi-weekly or monthly. But as I’ve found in my work as a psychiatrist, life does not operate on that schedule.
While clients might demonstrate an overall trajectory of improvement, unexpected mini-crises in between appointments can slow down improvement. Immediate coaching intervention at the exact time of need helps to address these natural setbacks that occur between therapy or psychiatry visits. In addition to handling acute issues, coaching can offer a helpful longitudinal approach to goal setting. For example, coaches can check in with clients between clinical visits and remind them of healthy sleep hygiene techniques or provide light motivational interviewing to help an individual reduce alcohol consumption.
Scaling Care to Meet Demand
As mental health stigma decreases, more people are actively seeking services. Earlier this year, in partnership with Dimensional Research, Ginger surveyed more than 1,200 U.S. workers and found that a growing number of workers are proactively seeking out mental healthcare. Fifty percent of workers said they are more likely to seek help now than they were five years ago and 85 percent reported that behavioral health benefits are important when evaluating a new job.
Now that we are in 2019, its time to really take your health seriously. We aren’t talking about the usual “let’s lose a few pounds” as a New Year’s resolution; what we mean is taking advantage of the technology, information and health products available these days that can help your health today, tomorrow, and the rest of your life.
This is true whether you’re a young professional or a retiree, and it’s never too late to make some life-altering changes. Outline your goals beforehand and make a list of what you need to do to achieve them. With the advances in technology over the last several decades, staying on top of your health is easier than ever before.
If you’re retired, chances are your health needs are a bit different. Staying active is crucial, even if it’s only a walk around the neighborhood each day. This prevents muscle atrophy and weakness. If you’re struggling with movement and slowing down, consider investing in a remote monitoring with predictive analytics, especially if you live alone. These services can prove to be life-saving in the event of an emergency and it’s one way technology is helping to improve the quality of life for seniors. You can also make your home more mobility friendly if you have trouble getting around. This will limit the amount of stress you put on your body.
Caring for mental health
At least one in five Americans suffer from some form of mental illness, so chances are you know someone who does. Mental illness can lead to many devastating consequences including drug addiction, homelessness and relationship failures. The first step to getting help is recognizing that there’s a problem and getting a diagnosis from a qualified doctor as each diagnosis is treated differently in terms of medication and coping habits. There are many ways to get help including facilities that offer ACT therapy, rehabilitation and psychological help. In cases where medication and other forms of therapy fail, some doctors turn to TMS therapy, which uses an external electromagnet to stimulate the nerves in your brain that affect your mood. It sits on your head, offering a non-invasive method of treatment.
One of the most popular New Year’s resolutions–if not the most popular–is weight loss. Whether you have 5 or 50 pounds you want to lose, with a lot of hard work and dedication, you can make it happen. Try out new exercise routines streamed right to your smartphone or tablet via apps, and increase your activity to burn more calories in addition to overhauling your diet. It’s okay to indulge in sweets, but keep consumption to a minimum.
One of the largest barriers of delivering mental healthcare is the critical shortage of mental health professionals across the country, despite the significant prevalence and impact of mental health conditions. The National Alliance on Mental Illness and the National Institute of Mental Health report that 1 in 5 Americans live with a mental health condition and more than half of American adults with mental illness did not receive treatment in 2016. The U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration estimates an additional 70,000 mental healthcare providers are needed by 2025 to meet the expected growth in demand. In Chicago alone, patients may wait upwards of 10 months for a psychiatrist appointment.
Timely and quality behavioral healthcare is essential for improving patient mental health outcomes and increasing provider satisfaction. Telehealth is emerging as a viable approach to traditional on-site care methods, as it can rapidly improve the delivery of care by effectively addressing patient needs while reconciling the workforce gap. Specifically, telehealth can allow for immediate consultation (especially crucial in time-sensitive situations), increased treatment capacity and collaboration across the continuum of care, and improved outcomes (especially by allowing patients to receive care in the comfort of their own home).
Increased Access to Care In a given year, approximately one in 25 adults in the U.S. experiences a serious mental illness that substantially interferes with, or limits, one or more major life activities according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The American Journal of Psychiatry reported that untreated mental illness is estimated to cost approximately $100 billion annually in lost productivity.
Patients can benefit from providers who use video-based technology to conduct “virtual consults” when providing an initial diagnosis, as well as making recommendations for admission, treatment, transfer, or discharge. Additionally, for ongoing treatment, video offers patients a way to participate in ongoing care and support via “virtual visits” with mental healthcare providers. Convenient access to care can help patients who may avoid seeking initial mental healthcare and/or ongoing treatment as some patients may unfortunately avoid visiting a nearby mental health clinic or provider for a needed diagnosis if they are wary of public recognition and social disapproval. Patients might also not adhere to scheduled follow-up appointments if visits to these “known” mental health clinics in one’s community are required. With telehealth, patients can remain comfortably at home and confidentially receive the care they need.