We’re living through a time of exponential change. A cluster of new technologies – high-speed internet, AI, data – is enabling previously unimaginable leaps in productivity. As processing power and data increase, the relative cost of processing the data decreases, making innovative solutions more and more competitive.
For some industries, it happened fast: the internet and the wealth of data it unleashed upended established systems in favor of new processes. In the more regulated industries, like banking, pharmaceuticals and healthcare, the change has been slower. But it’s coming and it will be just as impactful, if not more so.
Organizations who’ve embraced technology have a head start. Conversely, companies who have resisted this fundamental shift have become vulnerable. This dynamic is currently reshaping mental health care – with one vital distinction.
Why mental health is different
In many ways, mental health care is a unique industry. It’s dependent on a complex matrix of insurers, regulators, and clinicians. Its ‘customers’ are not customers at all, but patients, each of whom is on their own individual journey to recovery. Their treatment is becoming increasingly evidence-based, meaning that centers must increasingly demonstrate efficacy at every level of care. And the legislation surrounding addiction and its treatment can change almost spontaneously, meaning that mental health care facilities must be adaptable, agile, and prepared.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 has exacerbated this challenging environment. Around 50% of mental health organizations surveyed in fall 2020 reported an increase in demand as a result of the pandemic (NCBH, 2020). Yet the same study also found that on average, care organizations have lost 22.6% of their revenue during COVID-19. With more admin and less staff to do it, the result is fewer programs, even though demand is higher than ever. Those programs that do remain suffer from long wait lists: almost half (45%) of organizations surveyed by NCMW admit that their waiting lists have grown in the final quarter of 2020. It’s a perverse situation, but it’s also the logical conclusion of the unique challenges faced by the industry.
Time to transform
In response to these challenges, mental health and addiction care is undergoing its own digital transformation. Just as in other industries, innovative technologies are identifying and eliminating inefficiencies. Things that were accepted as ‘just part of the job’ – paper-based charts and medical records, lengthy authorizations, repetitive onboarding surveys – are now optional. You don’t have to waste hours trawling through documents, spreadsheets, and charts.
No wonder that around 95% of mental health and addiction care centers have already made the transition to electronic medical records (EMR). It’s been a remarkably quick transition, especially when you consider that EMR barely existed twenty years ago. The vast majority of facilities have realized the significant long-term benefits that digital technology can bring to their sector.
Despite the rapid pace of technology adoption, care facilities are still facing challenges. 68% of organizations surveyed by the National Council for Mental Wellbeing have had to cancel, reschedule, or turn away patients in the last quarter of 2020. Another 45% surveyed by the NCMW say their organization has closed some programs in the last year. All while the demand for mental health services is at record levels: we’re currently living through the peak of the opioid epidemic and the isolating dislocation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, some centers are thriving. Their readmission rates are dropping, their patients report high levels of satisfaction, and they’re expanding. They’re automating time-consuming tasks, which gives them more time to spend with their patients. This creates a virtuous cycle which improves patient outcomes, reputation, and admission rates.
Digital solutions can help, but only when they’re bespoke
So what’s really happening? One important factor is gradually becoming clear. It’s not digital innovation per se that counts. It’s digital innovation that’s fit for purpose. Many EMR systems aren’t built for mental health and addiction care. They’re generic, content management systems that are being pressed into service for mental health care. Most are not optimized for mental health care as such the impact on productivity is blunted. After all, such advances aren’t very helpful if they don’t properly meet your needs, or if you end up wasting time trying to make your EMR fit for purpose.
The difference between the best EMR and mediocre EMR is enormous – almost as vast, in fact, as the gulf between digital and paper-based records. The best EMR automates administrative tasks, but in such a way that genuinely integrates with the daily needs, rhythms, and outputs of your treatment center. It electronically stores medical records, but it does so in a way that helps clinicians discover new insights about their patients that can improve their treatment. It maximizes reimbursement and mitigates the risks of lost revenue. For mental health and addiction centers, these are the real benefits of digital innovation with tangible benefits for patients and their care providers. Unless your EMR genuinely serves the needs of your team, these benefits will remain out of reach.
What makes Kipu different?
At Kipu, our solutions have been designed in close consultation with the mental health and addiction sector as a whole. Clinicians have helped to shape how our solutions actually work. That’s how we’ve developed an end-to-end technology that unites EMR with CRM, billing, and lab work. It’s also how we help centers grow by an average of 69% in the 24 months after installing Kipu (and those are independently-audited figures) and it’s why we continue to serve 1,600+ treatment centers.
I’ve joined Kipu as CEO because I believe we offer the best solutions to support the vital work being done within the mental health and addiction organizations. I’ve spent much of my career improving access to technologies in the healthcare sector. The mental health industry is the latest sector in healthcare to benefit from advancing technology, and Kipu is at the forefront of the drive towards greater efficiencies and better outcomes that innovation can bring.
So yes, innovation is the answer. But only when it’s properly applied and supported by purpose-built technology. We are here to help our current and future customers on this important journey.
Paul Joiner is a proven leader in the healthcare industry who joins Kipu as CEO. Previously Paul spent seven years at Availity, a healthcare information technology network serving many of the largest and most respected provider and payer organizations in the US. As Availity’s COO, Paul was a major force for growth and innovation, nearly doubling the company’s revenue during his tenure.