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Increasing Access to High-Quality Mental Health Care in the 21st Century

The George W. Bush Institute’s Military Service Initiative convened the Stand-To Health and Well-Being Task Force to recommend ways to apply innovative technology solutions to expand and improve mental health care delivery.

Report by Kacie Kelly and Stephen Schueller July 12, 2021

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Our mental health system is failing veterans. Too many veterans don’t have access to high-quality care when they need it, and there are several specific barriers to care that must be addressed and removed. These include stigmas that prevent veterans from seeking care, a shortage of high-quality mental health care, and the challenges of navigating to high-quality care providers and programs.

We need 21st century solutions to address the following challenges: A dearth of providers – especially in rural areas – that are skilled in evidence-based treatments for common veteran mental health challenges; limited monitoring of outcomes for veterans engaged in care; and regulatory policy barriers that make it hard to scale care.

The George W. Bush Institute’s Military Service Initiative convened the Stand-To Health and Well-Being Task Force to recommend ways to apply innovative technology solutions to expand and improve mental health care delivery. The task force members, with experience at veterans’ organizations and mental health technology solutions, focused on using telehealth, digital tools, and data science to topple the barriers to care.

Telehealth, digital tools, and data science have great potential to improve access to high-quality care and ensure that veterans can access the right care at the right time and in the right place. Considerable gains have been made in recent years, and the COVID-19 pandemic created significant momentum by triggering a necessary transformation of health care delivery methods. Now is the time to build on the lessons learned during the pandemic and continue to expand equitable access to quality care.

The task force issued the following recommendations to support the expansion of high-quality mental health care to veterans.

Advance policies to increase interstate telehealth practice

Congress should authorize telehealth practice across state lines and across all mental health professions – or facilitate interstate agreements that will allow veterans to receive care from providers licensed in a different state.

Incentivize integration of outcome-based digital tools through reimbursement, funding, and research

Policymakers must create standards for digital mental health tools to protect veterans and instill confidence that the products actually achieve what they say they do. Linking the standards to reimbursement would provide the proper incentive for effectiveness, safety, and security and ensure that only outcome-based digital tools make their way into the hands of veterans.

Establish policies and regulations to harmonize pertinent data inside and outside health care systems

Applying modern data science to mental health care can ensure better veteran outcomes by identifying those in need of care, selecting best type of care to provide a particular veteran, and monitoring care progression.

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