A new mother struggling with postpartum depression. A student experiencing anxiety because of academic or social pressures or both. An older adult dealing with a chronic disease as well as depression. 

People battling behavioral health issues are all around us, but many of them suffer in silence. 

Nearly 44 million Americans have a behavioral health disorder, but fewer than 50 percent receive the treatment they need. At the same time, we’re facing an escalating shortage of practicing psychiatrists. More than 60 percent of psychiatrists are 55 or older and near retirement. By 2025, demand for behavioral health care may outstrip supply by 6,090 to 15,600 psychiatrists, according to a 2017 National Council for Behavioral Health report.  

In addition, the stigma of mental illness prevents some people from seeking treatment. And costs often are unmanageable.

Research demonstrates that telebehavioral health expands timely access to quality care, addresses patients’ needs to their satisfaction, improves outcomes, eases clinician burden and saves costs. In fact, web-based cognitive behavioral health has been proven to reduce medical and psychiatric hospitalizations for patients with comorbid behavioral health or chronic health conditions by as much as 25 to 30 percent. In short, telebehavioral health can enable high-value care. 

To improve the overall health of millions of Americans, the National Quality Forum and the AHA Center for Health Innovation collaborated on a new resource, “Redesigning Care: A How-to Guide for Hospitals and Health Systems Seeking to Implement, Strengthen and Sustain Telebehavioral Health.” This guide offers health care organizations a one-stop shop of actionable interventions and curated tools and resources to deliver quality behavioral health care. It also suggests questions that organization should consider regarding a telebehavioral health strategy.

In addition to leveraging our own organizations' work on telehealth, behavioral health and serious mental illness, multiple behavioral health experts and agencies contributed ideas and insights to developing this guide, which makes it unique. (It was an extraordinary group of expert contributors—and we thank them.) The guide is not a list of must-dos, but instead offers a variety of strategies and interventions to choose from and implement, whether your organization is starting a telebehavioral health program or strengthening an existing one. 

By collaborating with an extraordinary group of diverse experts and drawing on AHA and NQF’s topical expertise, we identified six success factors ranging from leadership commitment and organizational policies to staff education and community partnerships. For each success factor, the guide highlights key takeaways, implementation strategies, potential barriers and suggested solutions.

People overwhelmingly want to use technology to receive care. Using laptops, tablets and mobile devices, patients stay better connected to their clinicians and other support services. Patients can have their vital signs monitored, receive medication reminders and participate in social media support groups. 

Technology in health care is making significant impacts on behavioral health. Your teams can use, adapt and customize the guide’s strategies and interventions to deliver quality behavioral health care to more people who need it. 

Find out more in “Redesigning Care: A How-to Guide for Hospitals and Health Systems Seeking to Implement, Strengthen and Sustain Telebehavioral Health.”

Jay Bhatt, D.O., is senior vice president and chief medical officer at the AHA, and Shantanu Agrawal, M.D., is president and CEO of the National Quality Forum. 

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