I had the privilege of giving a presentation about PsyberGuide to the Kennedy Forum on March 18. The Forum is led by former Congressman Patrick Kennedy, who has been one of our nation’s greatest leaders on issues related to mental health, particularly with regard to reimbursement parity, access to care and coordination of research policy. Although PsyberGuide is currently focused on computer and device assisted therapies that can be used by individuals, the larger question of interest to the Forum is: How can technology be used to improve access to care and coordination among the various entities in the mental health “system”?

I started off my presentation with some of the more discouraging facts about access to care in mental health. For example, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 55% of the 3,100 counties in the United States do not have a practicing psychiatrist, psychologist or social worker. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 22.3% of patients admitted to hospital with a diagnosis of schizophrenia were readmitted to hospital within 30 days of discharge, and for mood disorders that fraction was 15.2% .  Furthermore, only 31% of callers to mental health clinics were able to determine if they would get an appointment compared to 78% of callers seeking help from medical clinics (Rhodes et al: Referral without access: for psychiatric services, wait for the beep. Annals of Emergency Medicine 2009:54:272-278).  Faced with these facts, we at PsyberGuide wonder to what extent therapies delivered over the internet, or therapies provided by software under direct control of consumers could help improve access to care.

The Kennedy Forum is focusing on 5 “Pillars”:

  1. Ensuring mental health parity compliance in health plans
  2. Establishing ways to promote provider accountability through evidence-based outcome measures
  3. Implementing collaborative practice models that promote the integration of mental health and substance use disorders into mainstream health care
  4. Using technology to optimize digital communications and enhance assessment and treatment tools
  5. Promoting brain fitness and wellness which includes identifying opportunities to translate neuroscience research findings into interventions

I was very encouraged by the energy, enthusiasm and focus of the Forum and am glad that they are advocating for these important issues.  You can track their work, or sign up for the newsletter or make a donation to them, on their site, or you can find them on Facebook or Twitter.