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The Emerging Role of Health Plans in Behavioral Health Crisis Services


“It’s OK to not be OK.”

That’s the message Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps is on a mission to share while revealing his struggles with mental health issues. Other celebrities such as Prince Harry, singers Demi Lovato and Kendrick Lamar, and actress Emma Stone have made a point of being public about how they deal with anxiety, depression and even suicidal thoughts.

Historically, the stigma around mental or behavioral health issues caused many people to avoid seeking treatment even if their conditions had a negative impact on their quality of lives. As social norms evolve and acceptance of the need for behavioral health services grows, making it easier to access treatment options is a crucial next step.

Health plans are beginning to play a larger role in reducing the complexity of seeking services for members who are experiencing behavioral health crises—by implementing behavioral health hotlines, with specialists on standby, as part of their telehealth offerings.

The state of behavioral health

A behavioral health crisis is a period of time when an individual’s behavior can ultimately put that person or others in danger. Some examples include uncontrollable anxiety, dramatic mood swings, threats or feelings of suicide or the desire to hurt others, a sense of hopelessness, or a sharp increase in alcohol or drug use.

The need is real. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than one-quarter of adults in the U.S. experience some kind of behavioral or mental health disorder every year. Evidence-based studies also point to the link between chronic physical conditions and their effect on mental health. Twenty-nine percent of adults living with a medical condition also have some type of mental health disorder.

Implementing telehealth solutions for a mental health crisis

Even as health plans pay more attention to mental health issues, behavioral crisis support in the healthcare industry as a whole has a long way to go to streamline access to care. Even to someone not experiencing a crisis, the complex web of programs and services can be overwhelming. It’s not unusual for a person in crisis to turn to a hospital emergency department (ED) as a first reaction of where to go for help.

Payers that provide a behavioral health crisis line can offer members a convenient way to speak with specially trained clinical professionals who can either provide immediate assistance or refer callers to the appropriate level of care or service—such as calling 911, visiting an ED, making an appointment with their primary care physician, scheduling a behavioral health telehealth visit (telepsychiatry or virtual counseling appointment that fits the patient’s schedule) or reaching out to employer assistance programs or community resources.

Ideally, the behavioral health hotline will also have procedures in place to collaborate with ED staff if the situation warrants or be able to provide a warm transfer for the caller to speak with a clinical specialist.

There are a number of ways to implement mental health crisis services, of course. At Carenet Health, we combine our industry-renowned nurse advice line, staffed with our outstanding registered nurses and care coordinators, with a behavioral health-specific crisis line partner. If a health plan member is experiencing any concerning physical or mental health symptoms, the patient has one point of contact and is quickly triaged to get the right care at the right time. That could be at-home treatment guided by a nurse, an immediate virtual MD visit, a mental health crisis specialist or even the coordination of a routine behavioral health counseling appointment via our teledoctor partner.

To make sure members are aware of telehealth options, we encourage health plans to actively promote the availability of services, especially emphasizing that hotlines are there for both mental and physical conditions (if the plan has chosen that service).

On-demand care for help 24/7

Health plans that incorporate a behavioral health crisis service in their telehealth offerings help their members more easily get help when they need it, figure out appropriate next steps and ultimately seek treatment. At Carenet Health, we’re dedicated to making on-demand virtual care more easily available, consumer-friendly and affordable. And we’re always looking for ways to elevate our clients’ consumer experiences, including telehealth interactions.

Let’s brainstorm together to find custom solutions that will please your health plan members or patients and give you a distinct competitive advantage.

For more information on what’s driving the increased focus on health plan-provided behavioral health crisis hotlines, download our trend brief.