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By: Evan Corey on August 5th, 2020

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Reimagining The Delivery of Behavioral Health

behavioral health

Earlier this month the Sigmund team tuned in to NatCon at Home, a virtual conference hosted by the National Council For Behavioral Health. If you were able to attend you know that the event featured several awesome speakers.

One of those speakers was Scott Lloyd, President of MTM Services. In his presentation, Mr. Lloyd examined the delivery of behavioral health, which really struck a chord with the team.

He was, as they say, speaking our language. We identified with his passion, concerns, and wishes for our industry.

He first highlighted the issues with traditional behavioral health care delivery systems, which we explored in a previous blog. If you have ever lamented the ways our current systems fail to optimally serve the patient or the provider, his insights are sure to resonate with you. 

The second half of the presentation was a bit more uplifting. Lloyd explained how there is actually great opportunity for change and growth in behavioral health

If you look around, we are currently living in a transformative moment. People in all sectors are ready to have conversations that have been previously very difficult to start.

And that trend is emerging in our industry as well. Professionals like Lloyd have been doing important legwork to not only shed light on the flaws in behavioral health systems, but also present data that reflects a need for change.

As we find ourselves in a time that is primed for confronting and fixing systemic problems, Lloyd laid out a blueprint for how that can happen in behavioral health. After two decades of experience and research, he believes four things need to happen for real change to occur:

  • Organizations must find and use relevant data to inform and inspire change
  • Leaders (both individual and collective) must begin advocating for and pioneering changes
  • Organizations must stop talking and start implementing changes
  • Organizations who cannot analyze and leverage the necessary data themselves must seek assistance to do so

Finding the Right Data

One of our main takeaways from Mr. Lloyd’s presentation is that data has to drive any changes in how we deliver behavioral health

He made two important points regarding data in this situation.

First, Lloyd stated that actionable data is the only tool that can cut through the system noise of an industry that is overburdened by assessments, guidelines, and faulty systems. 

The first step towards a better system is collecting data that quantifies the shortcomings of your current process. This allows organizations to start with a clear picture of what wasn’t working. 

From there, that relevant data can be reviewed and analyzed so that an agency can make informed decisions on new solutions and directions.

Behavioral Health Data

Lloyd’s second critical point is that different people respond to different types of data.

Unified buy-in is one of the most important factors in making any system change. Transforming organizational processes is a huge undertaking, so it is crucial to have everyone on board with any attempted adjustments.

As a result, decisions have to be made and proved by data that resonates with the entire team

For example, clinicians are often visual learners that are most invested in the quality of care their agency is delivering. Thus, a great way to get through to your providers might be with a graph that visualizes the average number of assessments a patient must complete before getting into treatment. 

On the other side of the spectrum are your executives, your funders. This group generally responds to statistics and matters of revenue. When it comes to these decision-makers, your best shot may be to appeal to them with hard data, such as a spreadsheet that shows areas of poor financial performance.

Data is a language that everyone speaks. The the key is to find which dialects appeal to which parties at your agency. Getting genuine and collective buy-in based on data is the best way to set any system transformations up for success. 

Behavioral Health Leaders Wanted

We need leaders to pioneer and propel changes in behavioral health. These leaders can be anyone in the industry, even patients or other external individuals.

However, right now, we especially need active leaders working within behavioral health agencies.

Where they stand in the hierarchy of influence and decision-making at their organization is not so important at this stage. Just having someone in the building that is making an effort to move the conversation along internally can be a game-changer. 

There is a lot of inaction and deliberation in our industry. Sometimes the thing missing at an organization is a team member willing to express their passion for transforming systems and charge their staff to consider new solutions. 

That motivation and energy are contagious. Once one person voices concerns about current systems and hopes for changes, it is natural for others to fall in line in support. It is likely those concerns and hopes were already shared amongst a considerable portion of the staff. 

Behavioral Health Leaders

In addition to starting discussions about change, it is also helpful for leaders to take ownership of the change process.

That is not to say that a single employee should commandeer the entire undertaking. Instead, leaders can help facilitate and structure positive transformations by establishing data-driven guardrails. Setting constructive targets to hit, or identifying areas to reexamine first can go a long way in maximizing the potential of any attempted change. 

Leaders still have a considerable challenge in front of them, though. Behavioral health’s flawed care delivery system is deeply ingrained. We are working against decades of disenfranchisement and complacency with systems that fail the user.

We were lucky enough to have a premiere leader in Mr. Lloyd to educate us on the problems and repercussions of our current care delivery systems. In agencies that do not have such a great example to work from, the heavy lifting for a perspective shift falls on the shoulders of its leaders.

As leaders emerge in more and more agencies, though, an industry-wide tide will start to gather steam. As the philosophical repercussions move through organizations, areas, counties, states, we hope to see a groundswell of forward-thinking, pro-change behavioral health professionals. Eventually, we expect and look forward to the emergence of a collective and formidable voice for change.

Stop Talking, Start Implementing 

Discussing change is important, but we can't talk forever.

If we aren’t implementing changes and observing the data and outcomes, then we are just talking. A conversation without action does nothing to improve provider or patient experiences.

We already know that in order to make the right changes, we need the right data. We can’t acquire the data we need until we start.

Making that first step to implement adjustments can feel like a monumental feat, and it should. There is often so much to overcome before getting to that point.

It is important to remember, though, that once those changes are made, the work does not stop. 

Implementing a change only to set it and forget it is a strategy that is sure to fail. The success of the entire endeavor often rides on diligent trial and error. To discover the best solutions, organizations must be constantly tracking and refining changes.

Lloyd notes that some of the most important data to track is that which is linked to patient or provider experience. Helpful questions to ask yourself can be:

  • Is this change benefitting my patients?
  • Is this change improving patient outcomes? Are they showing more progress? Faster progress?
  • Is this change making providers’ tasks more efficient?
  • Is this change improving organizational functionality? 
  • Is this change saving us money?
  • Is this change making the claims process more efficient?

Start Implementing

Seeking External Help to Navigate Changes

Lloyd is sympathetic to the fact that reexamining your systems can be a huge undertaking. Just because he believes in upgrading the delivery of behavioral health doesn't mean he expects everyone to be able to immediately follow through.

Many organizations have a small staff. Others are understaffed, underfunded, or lack resources. It may not be feasible to ask an agency to persevere through a faulty system and trailblaze a new one at the same time. 

If this describes your situation, or if your agency seems to keep getting stuck in making productive headway, it is a good idea to go seek out help.

There are resources and services available to you that can assume comprehensive control of your data, which is crucial to success while changing systems.

Using an external service can also take pressure off an agency in deciding where to start. We’ve all been too close to a problem to see the best solution. That’s where a third-party partner can come in with fresh eyes to refocus and manage your efforts.

Many organizations tend to shy away from additional expenses at all costs. However, getting skilled and professional support to improve your systems can make a huge difference, even (or especially) to your bottom line. 

A great example of the kind of company that can help you navigate system changes is Mr. Lloyd’s MTM Services. We know, big surprise.

In all seriousness, though, MTM Services has been transforming behavioral health systems to improve outcomes for two decades. It’s hard to argue with their longevity and results.

Looking Ahead to Better Behavioral Health Systems

After reading these 4 steps, you may be thinking to yourself: “this could never happen at my organization.”

And we get that. Behavioral health professionals have essentially been conditioned to accept very slow, incremental change. 

But then COVID-19 hit and forced our industry’s hand in that respect.

Look at telehealth, for example. This was a technology that has been talked about in our industry for years. There was never a real need to dive into a video conferencing solution, though, so most agencies did not bother to pursue this upgrade. 

However, as the pandemic plunged healthcare into a remote environment, the entire industry rushed to build a global telehealth infrastructure. And, a few months later, both providers and patients have adapted to this new way we deliver care.

In his presentation, Lloyd mentioned one organization he worked with had been flirting with telehealth for years. During this time they experienced a lot of false starts and uncertainty.

Then, COVID-19 was upon us, and they moved 8000 patients over to a telehealth platform in 4 days. This is an impressive feat, but also an important lesson - with the right catalyst, the agency was able to make a change that was years in the making in just 96 hours.

In this way, the pandemic holds great transformative potential for behavioral health. Our ingrained traditional systems have loosened, if not totally uprooted in some cases.

We hope more behavioral health professionals begin to see that we don’t have to remain set in our old ways and faulty systems. There is room, and need, for innovative solutions to the longstanding issues with how we deliver care.

We will leave you with a parting sentiment from Lloyd’s presentation: do you want more of the same, or do you want to make a change?

If you look at your patient outcomes, your staff turnover rates, your patient drop-out rate - are those results you are happy with? If not, you owe it to your staff and your patients to reexamine your systems. 

If you’re looking for further guidance on how to begin a comprehensive review of your agency’s systems, we would be happy to discuss that with you. Sigmund has been developing a software solution tailor-made for behavioral health and addiction treatment for 20 years.

We are passionate about improving outcomes and leveraging data to do so. Feel free to reach out to speak to one of our knowledgeable professionals today!

And make sure to stop by our blog for more fresh perspectives in behavioral health! Just click on the button below to check it out.

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