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How virtual care offers workplace solutions for behavioral and mental health

Today’s workforce faces a range of mental and behavioral health issues including stress, anxiety, depression and substance use disorder. Millennials, soon to be the largest segment in the workplace, are especially at risk. For them, major depression rose by 31 percent from 2014 to 2017, becoming more prevalent than hyperactivity and type 2 diabetes.1

Employers have a vested interest in getting employees of all ages the help they need and are beginning to add or expand mental health and behavioral solutions.

Mental health issues reduce employee productivity and cost money

The cost of direct mental health treatment, at $26 billion, might seem like a lot of money. But that amount is nowhere near what employers pay for mental health-related absenteeism, estimated at $51 billion.2 And you can’t ignore the impact mental or behavioral health conditions have on overall health and wellbeing, which directly affect how able and engaged employees are at work.

Most Americans with major depression also have one or more serious chronic health conditions

Major depression can rob people of 9 plus years of healthy life. 85% of people with depression also ahve conditions such as: hypertension, type 2 diabetes and substance use disorder

The need for mental health support spurs innovative solutions

Nearly six in 10 Americans are seeking or wanting to seek mental health services either for themselves or for a loved one, yet nearly half have to drive more than an hour round trip for treatment.3 Innovative solutions, many of which leverage technology, are catching up with the growing demand for access to mental health care. Below are key areas to watch.

Virtual Health. A majority of employers already offer virtual health services for behavioral health, allowing employees to speak with an emotional health coach right away. Telehealth is ideal for millennials because they’re much more likely to use technology to interact with the healthcare system in general.4 Employees who live in “mental health deserts” or are uncomfortable walking into a therapist’s office can also benefit from an online or virtual visit with a mental health provider.

Wearables. As more companies and start-ups enter the wearables space, we’ll likely see the function of them evolve from tools to track activity, heart rate or sleep to more personal, two-way interactions. For example, a care provider could assist an employee in managing depression, substance use disorder or other health issues through a wearable device.

AI. Amazon’s new HIPAA-compliant Alexa allows additional types of information, such as patient health records, to be securely transmitted. Most of the emerging HIPAA-compliant innovations are around physical health, such as recognizing cardiac arrest during 911 emergency calls.6 But it’s easy to see how receiving behavioral health information via Alexa has the potential to help employees manage stress and other conditions.

Making behavioral and mental health innovations work for your organization

When adopting innovations to help your employees manage stress or mental health conditions, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  1. Take mental health seriously. Consider it to be just as important as other medical conditions.
  2. Help remove the stigma of getting help by educating your employees and being open about mental health conditions. If your company offers telebehavioral solutions, promote it in company newsletters, text messages, emails and on your intranet. Senior executives could consider including a message on how to contact mental health services in their internal email signature.
  3. Promote better mental health in your work environment. Consider healthy food and drink options, free exercise classes, meditation or stress reduction training, and if possible, flexible work hours.

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Vincent Nelson, M.D.

Vice President, Medical Affairs

Vincent Nelson, M.D., is vice president of Medical Affairs in the Office of Clinical Affairs (OCA) for the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA), a national federation of 36 independent, community-based and locally operated Blue Cross and Blue Shield (BCBS) companies. Today, one-in-three Americans are covered by the BCBS system.
Dr. Nelson provides clinical leadership across multiples disciplines, including quality management, provider recognition, medical policy, innovations of service delivery and strategic market opportunities. He ensures that the OCA and BCBSA incorporate clinical guidance that aligns with market demand and positively impacts the quality of healthcare while maintaining BCBS System leadership with members, providers and stakeholders. Prior to BCBSA, Dr. Nelson was a senior medical director/market chief medical officer for the Central/West U.S. Region at United Healthcare, where he partnered with senior leadership teams to lead market level programs, integrate clinical functions and drive results for clinical affordability, quality and population health measures.
Previously, Dr. Nelson held the position of Assistant Professor in the Department of Anesthesiology, Critical Care, and Pain Medicine, at the University of Texas Health Science Center, McGovern Medical School in Houston, Texas. His interests and activities were in clinical care, teaching residents, and supporting department collaborations with industry sponsored pharmaceutical and medical device clinical trials. Before his careers in academia and industry, Dr. Nelson worked as a private practice clinician for 12½ years. He was a founding physician partner and board member of United States Anesthesia Partners (USAP).
Dr. Nelson obtained his bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from Stanford University. He holds a master’s degree in business administration from Rice University, Jones School of Business, and a medical degree from the University of Chicago, Pritzker School of Medicine. He completed his Clinical Residency and Fellowship training at Harvard Medical School, in the Department of Anesthesiology, Pain Management, and Critical Care Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Mass.