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Mental health providers launching tech innovations

For stressed health care workers, a mental health oasis awaits on their computer or phone — they log into a virtual space and see large windows with expansive nature views, calming music, a caring therapist, and other people just like them — but through a filter of anonymity.

Kristine Hoestermann, the head of mental wellness at Even Health, says burnout, particularly among health care workers, has been high. (Submitted photo)

This is the virtual mental health care experience offered by Cabana, a product of Annapolis-headquartered Even Health. The platform is offered to health care workers from multiple health systems through their employers to deliver professionally moderated group support in a virtual reality based environment.

It’s just one of many technological solutions that have been launched as more and more insurance companies, health care clinicians, and health systems look for innovative practices. Maryland is home to many of the leaders in this field, including Even Health, Bloominmind in Columbia, Mindoula in Silver Spring, and Rose Health in Baltimore.

The industry is reporting an increase in demand and interest for these solutions, even as behavioral health care settles back into in-person and new hybrid methods of care.

Steve Sidel, founder and CEO of Mindoula, said that at one point during the COVID-19 crisis even the company’s service line that provides behavioral health services for inpatient psychiatry wards was using exclusive virtual therapy and video conferencing on tablets.

Now, even as patients become more comfortable with in-person visits, some of the video conferencing appointments have remained.

“You’re seeing the pendulum swing back, you’re seeing less utilization in behavioral health of purely virtual solutions and more utilization of hybrid solutions,” Sidel said.

Clinically, the outcomes for virtual therapy are very similar, at times indistinguishable, from in-person therapy, he said. And it allows mental health practitioners more options and flexibility in how they practice, potentially providing a solution for long-standing problems like critical shortages of psychiatrists in rural, remote areas.

Group support

For Kristine Hoestermann, the head of mental wellness at Even Health and a licensed social worker, the burnout during the pandemic was only too real. She was working for health care providers and putting in 10-14 hours per day providing virtual private therapy to clients back-to-back. It took a tremendous emotional toll, and the telehealth structure would lead to therapists burning out, she feared.

When the opportunity came up at Even Health, Hoestermann realized that clients could benefit from different virtual solutions like Cabana, where she facilitates groups.

“If it (the pandemic) has taught us anything it has taught us we are incredibly creative as humans,” Hoestermann said. “It challenged me to be a better provider.”

The National Alliance on Mental Illness last year published a survey that found more people — 84% — reporting stigma as a major barrier to people accessing treatment for mood disorders. By comparison, a similarr survey conducted in 2009 found 72% agreeing stigma is a major barrier for people seeking treatment for depression).

The latest figure is a number that Even Health CEO and co-founder David Black has taken to heart, saying that with all the anonymity technology can offer, the number should be going down, not up.

On average, a national survey found it takes 11 years for someone to seek support from when they first experience mental health concerns, usually because they believe that their symptoms aren’t that severe, he said.

“We have to focus on not just improving mental health access but in addressing the barriers that keep people from taking that first step,” Black said. “Cost, stigma, trust, and convenience are practical barriers that need innovation – and it’s why we’re looking to expand social support as a means of helping individuals engage earlier.”

Even Health’s Cabana space was designed deliberately by environmental psychologists and a mental health nurse practitioner to connect individuals who share commonalities but may never have found each other, in a space that taps into the healing power of nature and creates psychological safety.

 “The opportunity that digital health offers isn’t just to put a camera on traditional therapy, it’s to tailor the environmental settings in ways that accelerate meaningful conversation,” Black said.

‘Care extenders’

Many technological solutions go far beyond traditional clinical delivery. At Mindoula, many of their solutions are care extension services like peer support, case management or collaborative care through primary care physician practices.

Mindoula CEO Sidel said one area that spiked during the pandemic was demand for programs that support victims of violence and adolescents and young adults at critical risk of suicide. With a larger demand, virtual care extenders delivered by Mindoula in partnership with health plans were widely used.

“We were able to save lives in a very meaningful way and help families,” Sidel said. “And what that ended up then doing was helping to let the market know solutions like that from Mindoula exist, and that helped drive demand for those programs even as COVID has receded.”


One comment

  1. MY STORY

    When I worked at SOHIO which was taken over by BP, in Cleveland, Ohio, I went all over the building talking about my dream of making abortion free for the poor so that you don’t have to pay higher taxes to feed those kids on welfare. I also wanted to allow minors free access to abortion. I was 27. One guy said, “Somebody should have felt that way 27 years ago.” When I made deliveries many people complained about me and my boss wanted to put me on the nightshift to keep me out of sight. Fortunately for me, he got lung cancer and had to have a lung taken out. He died a year later. His lesbian supervisor took over. I didn’t care if she was a lesbian. As long as she didn’t put me on the nightshift that was all that mattered because in Cleveland, Ohio people dread the nightshift more than going in the army. 38 years later I’m still politically active fighting to keep Roe v. Wade.

    TAXPAYERS FOR ABORTION

    Half the pregnancies are unintended.

    There’s enough overpopulation and the last thing we need is to outlaw abortion.

    We need to make it free for the poor and the homeless and we need to allow minors to have abortions without consent from their parents.

    The kids who are aborted are the kids who are going to wish they were never born.

    They’ll be raised in foster homes to get beaten up all day long of get molested by caretakers.

    They’ll be forced to have sex with their parents if their parents are sick.

    Incest, child molestation, child neglect and child abuse is
    a threat to everybody. Molested children grow up to become rapists or child molestors. 9 out of 10 violent criminals in jail were abused children.

    They’ll have to live in homeless encampments and look for food in the garbage cans. If they live in homeless encampments the air will smell like a sewer.

    If they’re born addicted to crack they’re going to wish they were never born. They’ll never be normal.

    If they see their fathers hit their mothers in front of then, it will devastate them. If they see their parents smoke, drink or do drugs it will take a toll on them. If the kids parents smoke and the smoke makes them sick that will also take a toll on them.

    If abortion is outlawed, any drug dealer quack can ask a girl get drunk and use a coat hanger and if the girl dies, then that’s tough.

    There’s enough overpopulation and no nation should have restrictions on abortion.

    Because of environmental degradation and global warming more and more kids are going to wish they were never born.

    Can you imagine how much higher your taxes would be if there was no ?Can you imagine how much worse overpopulation would be without abortion?

    The reason anti abortionists are against abortion is because their religion tells them that abortion is wrong.

    All people who are for abortion should buy foreign cars instead of American cars, to put more people out of work and on welfare.

    That way when people have to pay higher taxes to feed those kids on welfare they’re going to be for abortion instead of against it.

    All people who are for abortion should convict and recommend the death penalty for right to lifers on trial.

    The cause of racial attacks, ethnic tension, war and riots is overpopulation and there is little or nothing that can be done to prevent racial attacks. It is overpopulation that’s causing the convict in Northern Ireland, the Middle East, and it’s also giving rise the drug cartels in Mexico and Latin America.