Lessons from HIMSS: How mental health tech can advance population health

Lessons from HIMSS: How mental health tech can advance population health

Last week Dale and I had the opportunity to attend the Health Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) Conference in Orlando, Florida. Here are some thoughts and reflections I’ve had since then.

One view of the HIMSS conference
One view of the HIMSS conference

Technology and Progress in Mental Health

The 1990s were the “Decade of the Brain”. Though many advances and discoveries were made during this time, the experience for mental health patients today is still challenging. Finding providers (particularly those which are covered by insurance), understanding different models of care, and integrating mental and physical health can all be difficult. Despite the high rates of mental illness in our society, stigma is still a problem and a barrier for many people trying to seek treatment. Recently, pharmaceutical companies drastically reduced budgets to research medications for psychiatric conditions.

So what can we do? The first step should be working to improve mental health outcomes through measurement-based care and evidence-based practice using proven behavioral/psychosocial treatments. In order to do this, we can harness the power of the Internet and mobile apps and use technology to advance the state of this sector of health care.

While there are a number of connected-health tools available, few of them are geared towards people with mental health problems, and even fewer are achieving traction or widespread adoption. There could be several reasons for this, but employers and health insurers are increasingly looking for innovations in this space. Health care providers and insurers on a broader scale are beginning to realize that without solid mental health, patients struggle to manage their chronic health conditions and costs can increase dramatically. Employers, too, are motivated to help keep their workforce feeling mentally well. Depression, for example, is as costly as heart disease or AIDS in terms of lost productivity, costing over $43B annually in the U.S. and mental illness is a leading cause of absenteeism in the workplace.

One of the biggest things that investors, providers, and health insurers are looking for is engagement: Getting folks interested and involved in managing their mental health. Apps like Pacifica can help people do just that, either on their own through guided self-help tools, or by connecting to an in-person provider and enhancing their between-session work. Rather than offering an alternative to an in-person provider, Pacifica’s goal is to work in concert with clinicians to improve outcomes and help users achieve longer-term behavior change and wellness.

HIMSS Lessons: The State of the Field

We attended HIMSS to announce our recent funding round and new product launch as well as a big update to the existing Pacifica app. Additionally, I participated in a panel discussion about women in mental health tech. It was clear from our experience in that conversation and the conference more broadly that while there has been a lot of innovation in this area, the field still has a long way to go.

At the conference, we attended a talk that included the CEO of Omada Health, which has developed an electronic diabetes prevention program. Their method is based on a well-validated, in-person program that they adapted to work virtually. They use objective outcomes to measure progress and bill for reimbursement. While this is slightly more challenging when applied to mental health, Pacifica follows the same basic principle of creating engaging, interactive tools based on empirically-supported best practices.

Lessons from HIMSS: How mental health tech can advance population health

We left the HIMSS conference feeling exhausted but also excited about the opportunities that lay ahead as we continue to innovate and work to improve mental health care. The use of objective measures has been called for by the Kennedy Forum for years and will continue to be important as mental health care providers adapt to changes to reimbursement models and the introduction of value-based care. Everyone seems to agree that health care costs need to come down, and the use of objective measures to improve treatment monitoring and adjustment is a good first step. As we move forward, attention to issues of privacy and information security will continue to be important, as will integration into existing electronic health records. These are all challenges, but exciting ones, which hold the promise of improving health care for all.