This article features portions of an audio, video and written transcript from the June 30, 2021 webinar hosted by Dr. Andy Sekel, Ph.D., Twill's Chairman of the Board.

The subject of the webinar was “What Does 'Digital First' Mean for Behavioral Health and Can It Help Avoid The Mistakes of the Past?”  and three panelists—Steve Blumenfield, Head of Strategy and Innovation for Willis Towers Watson’s Health & Benefits business in North America; Dr. Stuart Lustig, Cigna’s National Medical Executive for Behavioral Health; and Michael Thompson, the President and CEO of the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions—joined Dr. Sekel to discuss the topic of digital healthcare through the lens of behavioral health.

The complete webinar is available here.

In this video clip, Michael Thompson and Dr. Sekel discuss the ways that behavioral health support for people with chronic health problems is essential to improving care delivery and health outcomes.    

Interview Excerpt Transcript

Dr. Andy Sekel: “There was a point about how the use of digital impacts people with chronic illness in a positive way. And, I wondered if in your experience how you see the connection between assessment and outcomes, as well as the connection between digital and chronic health treatment.”

Michael Thompson: “It's been shown by many studies, including the Milliman study that our joint collaborative funded, that the path forward for people with mental health conditions who also have chronic conditions are far more expensive—by a factor of two or three—than people who don't have a mental, health co-morbidity.

And, if you ignore that mental health comorbidity, it doesn't go away. You actually have to acknowledge it. And often times when you're trying to think about helping people to take control of their condition and manage their condition, if they have underlying anxiety or depression or any other condition, they're less likely to get it right.

People can end up in the hospital—not necessarily related to their mental health condition—but because of their other conditions as well.

So, our view is that we need to move the mental healthcare system to think with a more holistic total person viewpoint. It needs to understand the interplay between mental health and physical health and not make it the exception or at the whim of how a clinician thinks their patient is feeling. It has to be more systematic in terms of how we approach behavioral health.

For example, we check people’s temperature, whether or not we see their forehead is red, every time they see the doctor. In the same way, we can check people’s emotional temperature—essentially the temperature of their emotional wellbeing—and we can do that systematically. So, if we check people immediately, and then re-check at their next appointment.

Essentially, we need to do the same thing you do with a physical exam, where a doctor comes in and takes your temperature. If you have a fever, when you come back the next time, they check your temperature again to see if you still have the fever.

Frankly, these conditions are so much more complex in many ways than other conditions. If you're not rechecking them regularly, who knows whether you're getting the outcome you're seeking.

That's a level of discipline that frankly, a digital mindset—very disciplined—can do to produce better outcomes. I think that's what we're looking at for as the upside of digital health for people with chronic health problems.”

Dr. Andy Sekel: “I appreciate the comments about people with chronic illnesses, because most people that have a chronic illness have lost something—mobility, a pain-free life, what have you —and in that loss, they experience anxiety or depression, or both.

All of us have had depression at some point in our lives, or anxiety at some point in our lives. It's hard to function that way. It’s also harder to adhere to your prescribed medical protocol when you're feeling anxious or depressed.

The classic example is if you have chronic heart failure, the prescription for your health is to please go out, exercise more, and lose weight. Sound good, but it's pretty hard to exercise more or lose weight when you're feeling anxious or depressed.

Part of what digital opens up is access to interventions in your own home that allow a person to be engaged and activated about their mental health condition, which should give them more opportunities to deal with their physical health conditions.

And I think that's one of the main gifts of a digital capability.”

If this interview was compelling for you, we invite you to watch the entire presentation here

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