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Bridging the Gap Between Traditional and Digital Mental Health Services

Bridging the Gap Between Traditional and Digital Mental Health Services

Bridging the Gap Between Traditional and Digital Mental Health Services

Most mental health practices are straining to meet the rapidly escalating needs of a growing patient base. Despite staff dedication and OpEx spending, the traditional operational model is struggling under the weight of increasing patient demands in all directions. However, the issue isn't just about inefficiencies or paperwork red-tape; it's increasingly about fundamentally unscalable systems and methods becoming unable to keep pace with the global surge in mental health issues. The talent-gap in the availability of qualified mental health professionals is also widening as demand for diagnoses and treatment skyrockets. These factors are now conspiring to drive the urgent need for scalable solutions to enhance patient care and operational efficiency simultaneously.

The mental health industry has seen a promising increase in visibility and a reduction in the age-old stigma of seeking treatment in recent years; this is good news. However, the increasing demand for help is also exposing the systemic limitations of pre-digital mental health operations. Traditional operating models, which have remained largely unchanged, are proving inadequate in the face of escalating demand for diagnoses and treatment. The urgent need for expanded accessibility and increased appointment availability, both in-person and digital, has led to operational models bursting at the seams.

The path to a digitally enabled operation is challenging to embrace without the right expertise. Transitioning to a digitally enabled system, from electronic health records, telehealth platforms, and mobile health and scheduling applications requires more than just adopting new technologies; it demands a strategic approach to digital change management. This process is essential for integrating new tools seamlessly into current practices, gaining acceptance and effective adoption from all the internal stakeholders, and creating a more resilient and efficient mental healthcare system as a result.

Identifying the Starting Point

The first step in any transformation journey is recognizing the need for change. Mental health providers must conduct a thorough needs assessment to understand existing challenges and opportunities within their systems and identify areas where digital solutions can have the most significant impact. It involves:

  1. Evaluating Current Practices: As per an Informational Report of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association, our society faces grave consequences from the lack of available mental health treatment. Untreated mental illness and substance use disorders hinder individuals' ability to complete education, maintain employment, build relationships, and contribute to their communities, costing the nation $193.2 billion annually in lost earnings.

    Analyzing existing workflows and capabilities, patient outcomes, and administrative processes helps identify inefficiencies and gaps in service delivery. This includes acknowledging the escalating need for vastly expanded accessibility and practitioner appointment availability, which current operational models are typically struggling to meet. 
  1. Gathering Stakeholder Input: According to a 2020 study by BMC Health Services Research involving 30 healthcare professionals in Sweden, changes are more successful when professionals have the opportunity to influence them, feel prepared, and see their value. Specifically, changes initiated by the staff themselves faced less resistance than those that were dictated by management. Furthermore, 100% of the interviewees highly valued changes that had clear benefits for patients. This underscores the importance of engaging with staff, patients, and other stakeholders through surveys, focus groups, and interviews to understand their experiences and pain points and then clearly connect these discoveries with resulting digital transformation changes.
  1. Setting Clear Goals: When considering an organizational transformation, leaders frequently emphasize the nature of the change and its necessity, says Mary Sharp Emerson in the Harvard DCE article. However, neglecting to equally prioritize the method of implementing the change can jeopardize the entire transformation effort. Thus, setting clear goals is crucial: define specific, measurable objectives for the digital transformation initiative, such as reducing wait times, improving patient engagement, or increasing data accuracy. These goals should address the identified needs, guide the implementation process, and provide progressive success benchmarks.

Change Management Strategies

Once the need for change is clear, the next step is implementing effective change management strategies to facilitate a smooth transition. One can start by creating a detailed roadmap outlining the steps required to transition to digitally advanced mental health services, including timelines, resource allocation, and specific milestones to measure progress. 

It's also crucial to recognize the urgent need for digital expertise and the critical role of digital change management in addressing scalability issues and meeting growing demand. Change management involves more than just adopting new technologies; it ensures these tools are seamlessly integrated into existing practices and widely accepted and adopted by all stakeholders.

Here are 6 key Change Management Strategies mental health providers can use for success:

1. Transparency for Stakeholder Engagement

Transparency is crucial for gaining staff buy-in and reducing resistance to change. Regular updates, town hall meetings, and clear communication plans ensure that everyone is informed about the transformation process, its benefits, and their role in it. 

McKinsey and Company says only 30 percent of change management programs succeed. The leading reasons for failure are employee resistance and leadership actions that do not support the desired change. Engaging stakeholders at all levels fosters a sense of ownership and commitment, as well as helping to address concerns and incorporating valuable stakeholder insights into the transformation strategy.

2. Adopting Digital Solutions

With a clear roadmap and engaged stakeholders, the next step is to implement digital solutions. Beyond the basics of today's typical electronic health record systems (EHRs), an effective solution is required to fully embrace the complete digital engagement of new and existing patients from their first moment of practice discovery or referral and throughout the practice-engagement life cycle. This patient-centric digital engagement approach is exemplified by the Tech-Azur HealthSuite solution, which bridges the gap between “back office” EHRs and the practices web presence. HealthSuite clarifies the new patient journey with automated intake processes while also allowing fast and easy online appointment scheduling, on-platform telemedicine sessions (for Individuals or Groups), and seamless access across platforms, from smartphones & tablets to notebooks and desktops. Choosing this type of user-friendly technology that meets the organization’s specific needs is vital. Operational management should also ensure that staff are adequately trained to use these new tools, maximizing their potential and minimizing disruptions. Training programs should be developed to fit different learning styles and the range of user roles within each practice, complemented by ongoing tech support through help desks, online resources, and peer mentoring.

3. Ensuring Security and Compliance

Before embarking on digital transformation, mental health organizations must prioritize data security and compliance with established standards and regulations. According to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), managing cyber risks can be challenging due to the constant emergence of new threats. Implementing and maintaining an information security management system while following standards and constantly updating the security protocols addresses emerging threats and ensures ongoing compliance with industry standards. 

4. Pilot Programs 

According to the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, a Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycle can help learn how change works in the local environment. By planning and trying it, observing the results, and acting on what is learned, teams can build their knowledge about the potential of a change to result in improvement in their local context.

Implementing pilot programs allows organizations to test new technologies on a smaller scale before full deployment. Select specific departments or locations to pilot change management strategies and make necessary adjustments to stay on track and achieve your transformation goals.

5. Monitoring and Evaluation

Establishing key performance indicators (KPIs) to monitor the impact of digital solutions provides valuable insights. Metrics such as patient satisfaction, treatment adherence, and clinical outcomes can help organizations evaluate the effectiveness of their transformation efforts. Implementing mechanisms for continuous feedback allows for ongoing improvements and adjustments to the digital tools and processes.

6. Sustaining and Scaling

The National Institute of Change article states that digital health innovations have the potential to modernize healthcare and benefit the populace, but their adoption and scaling remain limited to small, local pilots. More work is needed to understand the factors that facilitate broader adoption and scaling, as well as significant changes within the sector to achieve commercial advantages and large-scale transformation for public services.

It’s essential to develop a sustainability plan to ensure the long-term success of your change management strategies and digital transformation initiatives. Allocate resources for ongoing maintenance, updates, and improvements to achieve that.

Figure 1. Digital Transformation Roadmap in Mental Health Services

By adopting these change management practices and strategies, mental health providers and their leaders can create a supportive environment that facilitates successful digital transformation and improves patient care.

Bridging the Technology Gap in Mental Health Care

While digital transformation holds great promise, ensuring all individuals have equitable access to these innovations is essential. This includes addressing the widening gap in qualified mental healthcare professionals and leveraging digital solutions to enhance the accessibility and availability of mental health services.

Access to technology is the first step. Partnering with community organizations and donors to supply necessary devices like smartphones, tablets, or computers to underserved populations ensures that patients have the necessary tools, while internet service providers may offer affordable or subsidized internet plans.

Enhancing digital literacy among clients and providers is another crucial strategy. Hosting community workshops and webinars helps raise awareness and build confidence in using digital health technologies, ensuring widespread understanding and acceptance. Additionally, promoting and supporting the development of low-cost or free mental health apps that offer high-quality services can aid in creating affordable digital health solutions. Advocating for policies that promote telehealth infrastructure, provide technology incentives, and ensure privacy and security is vital for broader adoption and systemic change.

Moving Towards Well-Established Goals, Processes, and Services

Digital transformation is not just about adopting new technologies; it's about rethinking and redesigning processes to achieve well-established goals and deliver high-quality services. 

Successfully implementing digital solutions in mental health care requires thoughtful change management and a commitment to bridging the technology gap. Organizations can effectively navigate digital transformation by engaging stakeholders, providing comprehensive training and support, addressing resistance, and ensuring equitable access to technology.

Digital transformation offers mental health providers unprecedented opportunities to enhance service delivery, improve patient outcomes, and adapt to evolving healthcare needs. By identifying needs, implementing practical change management strategies, and leveraging technology effectively, mental health providers and their leaders can confidently navigate the complexities of digital transformation. Contact Tech-Azur today to learn how we can assist your organization in embracing the future of mental health care and support your digital transformation journey. Our expertise in change management and digital transformation has proved to help build a more accessible, efficient, and effective mental health care system and its delivery.