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4 MIN READ

Thriving from COVID: Technological advancements that have made mental health treatment more accessible to underprivileged communities

Intro

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, many minority entrepreneurs had realized the need to improve accessibility for mental health treatment for underprivileged communities. Prior to recent developments, the stats were quite alarming. Statistics from different sources like the National Library of Medicine and Mental Health America revealed that:

  • 40 percent of white American adults seek treatment regularly for their mental health, but only about 25 percent of African American adults do the same.[i]
  • African Americans are 20 percent more likely to experience mental health issues than Caucasians. [ii]
  • Only 2.3 percent of Black or Hispanic young people see someone for mental health issues as compared to 5.7% for Caucasians.[iii]
  • Native Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 have the highest suicide rates of any ethnic group.[iv]
  • 40 percent of Native Americans who die by suicide are between 15 and 24 years old.[v]

In recent years, however, there have been attempts to bridge the gap from a legislative and technological level.

Legal Developments that improved mental health treatment

Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act

The Mental Health Parity Act of 1996 main goal was to ensure that large group health plans cannot impose annual or lifetime dollar limits on mental health benefits that are less favorable than any such limits imposed on medical/surgical benefits. The push was to place mental health on par with physical health management. Studies have shown that the program has indeed been a success and has increased access to mental and substance abuse treatment.[vi]

Affordable Care Act

The Affordable Health Care Act or as it is more commonly known, Obamacare, was signed into law on March 23rd, 2010. The act’s main aim was to provide more affordable health insurance coverage for more Americans who were unemployed or had low-paying jobs, or even some who were ineligible for insurance coverage due to pre-existing medical conditions. Specifically, the ACA prioritized the coverage of substance use disorders as one of the ten main elements of essential health benefits.[vii] While there have been some calls to have the Act repealed, many professionals in the behavioral health community agree that many more people have been able to afford healthcare. [viii]

Coupled together, these two legislative actions have surely increased treatment for the entire American population as well as its underprivileged communities.

Innovations driven by COVID

Now while there are always technological advancements in the mental health space the COVID-19 pandemic quickened the pace of innovation as physicians and doctors alike were restricted from seeing patients in person.

However, there were two significant positives borne from the pandemic regarding the treatment of mental health issues for underserved communities:

1)The total volume of people attended to by physicians increased significantly including those from underprivileged communities

Virtual Healthcare, which was only 2% of healthcare visits prior to the pandemic reached 70% of visits during the epidemic’s peak as stated by David Entwistle, president and CEO of Stanford Health care, the Medicinal arm of Stanford University. Digging further into the numbers, Entwistle noted that the average in-person visit was 67 minutes long whereas the telehealth visit was 22 minutes freeing up time and access, especially for in-demand specialists. “Technology has allowed us to be able to meet demand in a new way,” he said. “It allowed us to see more patients and to see them more frequently.” Some general innovations during the pandemic that helped physicians see more patients include

I)Telehealth – Being able to attend to clients virtually

II)Improving payment options – Accelerating the acceptance and need of virtual payments.

2) Innovations and Programs for Minorities developed during COVID

The times of economic uncertainty are certainly interesting as while many people lose their jobs and are monetarily unstable, the instability at the same time is capable of inspiring entrepreneurship and grand ideas. Some examples of innovative mental health solutions for underserved communities developed recently include:

Health In Her Hue 

Founded by Ashlee Wisdom Health in Her Hue is a digital health platform that connects Black women and women of color to culturally sensitive healthcare providers and culturally attuned health content.

Violet 

Violet is the first-ever platform for standardizing and increasing cultural competence. Founded by Gaurana Choksi, a platform that measures culturally-competent care and allows providers to understand how well they’re doing regarding their inclusion skills and also helps patients find the right provider for them based on their identities.

Ayana Therapy

The Ayana Therapy App links underprivileged communities to 200 licensed mental health professionals who are of similar age, race, ethnicity, culture, gender, sexual orientation, or religion of the user. Founded by Eric Soly, a Senegalese American, it uses a detailed questionnaire to link a user with a counselor.

The Safe Place

The Safe Place is a free app geared toward the Black community that features mental health statistics and educational tips regarding post-partum depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and other ailments. Created by Jasmin Pierre with the intention of reducing the stigma that mental health has in the black community, the app also has a strong focus on dealing with police brutality and how racism has impacted the mental health of those in the black community.

Sigmund Software and future innovations in the EHR space 

In addition to some of the innovations already in the marketplace, there are considerable technological advancements that will be coming down the pipeline. [ix]Some of them are as follows: Prescription Video Games, AI- And Smartphone-Assisted Therapy, VR For Mental Health, Digital Pills and Digital Symptom Tracking. At Sigmund Software we eagerly await to harness the power of these technologies coming down the pipeline so expect new announcements soon.

Meanwhile, you can contact one of our sales representatives here for a quick demo to learn about the current technological solutions we have for mental health,  or any other questions you might have.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[i] https://www.mhanational.org/issues/black-and-african-american-communities-and-mental-health

[ii] https://www.columbiapsychiatry.org/news/addressing-mental-health-black-community

[iii] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6099776/

[iv] https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/99-011-x/99-011-x2019001-eng.htm

[v] Ibid.

[vi] https://www.cms.gov/CCIIO/Programs-and-Initiatives/Other-Insurance-Protections/mhpaea_factsheet#:~:text=The%20Mental%20Health%20Parity%20Act,imposed%20on%20medical%2Fsurgical%20benefits.

[vii] https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/ondcp/healthcare

[viii] https://www.healthline.com/health/consumer-healthcare-guide/pros-and-cons-obamacare

[ix] https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2020/11/25/five-tech-innovations-that-changed-mental-health-in-2020/?sh=571cf0da1e9c