For the past two years, behavioral health in the U.S. has taken center stage, but the true impact of COVID-19 on families is just now coming into focus. The lingering effect of the pandemic combined with social stressors on top of life’s daily pressures is all taking its toll on mental health. Instead of declining post-pandemic, as a nation, we’re continuing to see an increase in the number of people struggling with some form of anxiety and depression.
Among some of the hardest hit are working parents – particularly those that have children with developmental delays or conditions like Autism – who’ve been quietly struggling and are reaching their breaking point.
2023 can be the year that stakeholders across government, healthcare, education and the private sector come together to implement innovative solutions designed to improve access and health equity, empower individuals to take control of their healthcare, and begin to solve some of the challenges in behavioral health—not just as a whole but addressing the needs of specific populations.
Here are 5 behavioral health trends that we see taking shape in 2023:
1. A “perfect storm” of behavioral health challenges for working parents
The rise of mental health and developmental disability diagnoses has been at play for some time and is expected to create a one-two punch for working parents in the coming year.
More than 20% of adults and 16% of kids in the U.S. have a mental health disorder.
Rates of developmental disability diagnoses including Autism, ADHD and intellectual disability (ID) have reached 18% on the tip of a two-decade rise.
Plus, parents whose children have developmental challenges are 2.4 times more likely to have mental health issues and twice as many emergency room visits.
This combination of mental health and developmental disabilities will put an almost unbearable burden on working parents, employers and the healthcare system as a whole.
2. Employers demand more care: provider gaps create new opportunities for health innovators
The continued demand for services is high—behavioral health visits are up 17% from pre-COVID levels—and the provider shortage is not slowing down.
By 2024, estimates show the U.S. will fall short between 14,280 and 31,109 psychiatrists. Psychologists, social workers and other mental health providers will be stretched thin as well.
The shortage is directly hitting the main private sector consumers of healthcare: employers. A recent report from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 30% of large employers say their networks don’t have enough providers to ensure their employees have timely access to care.
It’s hitting working parents with children facing developmental challenges even harder, creating an opportunity for innovators to step in and provide alternative solutions. You may not be able to replace a therapist or psychologist, but you can provide additional assistance through digital tools, live caregiver support from behavioral therapists who can help with care plans, and education and training on everything from mental health and parenting to social and emotional learning.
3. Healthcare consumerism will finally make inroads in behavioral health
Consumers have become accustomed to buying their own healthcare. They go online to search for providers, read reviews and use price transparency tools—to name a few.
The idea, however, has failed to take off in behavioral health, in a large part because implementing interventions has been a challenge, but much of that will change in 2023.
Solutions that help parents learn how to interact with their children, address behaviors, teach skills and deliver interventions at home are already available.
Parents can get the help they need while they’re waiting to be placed with a provider, in between therapy sessions, or on the weekends.
Extending the care team to include the parent empowers them to take control of their child’s care, reduces stress, anxiety and the mental health issues caregivers face, and leads to better outcomes.
Research shows that providing the right training to caregivers improves the clinical efficacy of the way the intervention is delivered.
4. Data will drive value-based behavioral healthcare
Value-based care has gained traction in most areas of healthcare, except for behavioral health. Without sufficient outcomes data, it’s difficult to establish the level of intervention based on the diagnosis. And without a way to predict outcomes, it’s nearly impossible to assess whether the provider is delivering quality care.
Some companies are already analyzing clinical outcomes data points to determine recommendations for interventions, including the number of hours and skills a patient needs.
And in the new year, expect to see data sets being used to determine outcomes and track patients to ensure they’re achieving the recommended outcomes. This work is driven by payers and self-insured companies who are becoming focused on results.
As behavioral health embraces data-driven results, patients will receive more appropriate interventions, providers will be measured on their performance, and reimbursement will be tied to better outcomes. Finally.
5. Digital will be leveraged to improve health equity
Healthcare disparities are an ongoing issue for children with developmental challenges.
A report by The Autism Intervention Research Network on Physical Health found that two-thirds of kids with autism from low-income households were black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC). These children had lower levels of access to care compared to white children with autism.
As a result of low reimbursement rates, however, most traditional providers don’t accept Medicaid, and traditional Medicaid agencies don’t have the expertise to treat these children.
Innovative digital solutions will equip providers with the tools to address these underserved populations and deliver it at scale to provide additional clinical resources that didn’t previously exist.
Workflow automation tools can lift the administrative burden from the clinician, including training staff, writing care plans and tracking progress so they can operate at scale in a clinical best practice manner. Solutions like these break down socioeconomic barriers, increase access and improve health equity.
Bottom line: In 2023, behavioral health will continue to be in the spotlight. It’s imperative that we come together as an ecosystem to support working parents and those who need it most and leverage technology, digital tools and value-based care to finally make progress.
About Daniel Etra, co-founder, and CEO of RethinkFirst
Daniel Etra is the co-founder and CEO of RethinkFirst. As an entrepreneur and 2x CEO, he has a long history of building and leading companies within the health, technology and retail industries. Prior to RethinkFirst, Daniel served as the CEO of R.E.R. International, a supplier of printed materials to the retail industry, and Managing Director of Promodex Ltd., an Israeli importer and distributor of consumer appliances and industrial equipment. He also served as a consultant at Bain & Company, where he helped to establish the New York office. Daniel has an MBA from Harvard Business School and a BA in Economics from Yale University. Born and raised in New York City, he is a volunteer in the Pediatric Department at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center where he works with children ages three months to 15+ years old.