COVID’s Impact on Mental Health Providers. 7 Ways You Can Protect Yourself and Thrive.

The COVID-19 pandemic created an enormous spike in anxiety and depression around the world, resulting in greatly increased demand for mental health services. What has this meant for mental health (MH) providers – who were not only already overworked, but whose ranks are diminishing, and who may be facing similar mental health issues themselves? Use these seven suggestions for coping during difficult times.

1. Recognize the problem

Studies show that the incidence of mental health concerns, especially anxiety and depression, rose by an alarming 25% during the pandemic. One ambulance company reported that its mental health calls doubled, and suicide calls went up by over 50%. Rates of mental disorders in children and teens increased by 50% too. So it’s no surprise that service providers are having a hard time keeping up with demand.

“When the pandemic started, we could definitely call it a psychiatric adjustment disorder for the entire world. Practically everyone could have qualified for that diagnosis,” says Naomi Myrick, PMH NP-BC, MSN.

Add to that the numbers of MH practitioners leaving the field – about 20% since the pandemic began. Even before the pandemic, between 35% and 54% of doctors and nurses nationwide reported that they felt burned out – including an astounding 80% of psychiatrists surveyed. Workloads continue to increase because it’s so difficult to hire replacements.

Rural areas have it the worst. More than 115 million Americans live in rural counties with just 20% of the psychiatrists that urban areas have. That means a five-fold burden on rural psychiatrists.

Just understanding the magnitude of the situation helps. Unfortunantly, you are not alone.

2. Take your own advice

You know all the warning signs of burnout, anxiety, depression and other behavioral concerns. Can you monitor them in yourself? Most importantly, can you take your own advice when it comes to an action plan?

If not, maybe it’s time to admit that you could use some expert help. Find another mental health professional to talk with. Most likely, they’re struggling with similar issues themselves, and you may have useful suggestions for one another.

Another idea, which you would no doubt offer your clients, is to reframe the situation. Try replacing the term "burnout" with "moral distress." Burnout implies that there’s no return from the charred ashes of despair. Moral distress, on the other hand, suggests a more remediable state, and speaks to one’s character. The pandemic imposed so many situations where ethical action could be compromised, and professional standards were hard to maintain. Any reasonable (and moral) professional would experience distress.

3. Determine what is within your control

We may all be familiar with the serenity prayer, advising us to know the difference between the things we can change and the things we cannot. Unfortunately, there’s not much any one person can do to erase the effects of a global pandemic. At the individual level, however, there are plenty of areas where we may be able to call the shots in and out of work, such as:
  • Limiting the number of hours that you work per week
  • Controlling the type and number of new clients you accept
  • Practicing mindfulness and de-stressing techniques
  • Choosing the amount of exercise you get
  • Adopting technology that can streamline your practice (see below)

4. Automate the clinical aspects of your practice

Mental health has been relatively slow in adopting technology to increase practice efficiencies, perhaps due to the low-tech nature of talk therapy, the smaller size of behavioral health groups, and the highly interpersonal aspects of counseling. However, most clients are now accustomed to digital solutions in medicine, and expect similar conveniences in mental health. This is good news, because technology can be your friend, saving hours of work every day.

An electronic health records (EHR) system is a good place to start. A robust solution like Kareo integrates your entire office. Electronic notes, patient insurance, prescriptions and much more are all stored together in the cloud, meaning that you can provide telehealth services from your home (or anywhere) and have complete access to client records. Kareo’s clinical solution contains dozens of mental, behavioral and psychiatric templates, with built-in treatment shortcuts to reduce repetitive tasks and cut down the time you spend on paperwork – eliminating stress at the same time.

5. Digitize your billing process

Many mental health practices were able to avoid insurance billing before the pandemic, seeing patients on a cash-only basis. That changed dramatically with the increase in Covid-related cases, with new patients demanding that providers accept insurance and electronic payments.

A move to automated billing can be a big relief, especially if the solution integrates seamlessly with your EHR. Kareo Billing, for example, makes it easy to manage the entire billing process, whether you outsource or do it in-house. The software handles everything from eligibility, claims management and compliance. With web and mobile applications, you can send client invoices using email or text messages. Clients can pay from a credit card by simply clicking a link on their phones. Build-in analytics let you keep tabs on your practice’s financial health.

Not only does electronic billing appeal to clients, but it also speeds payments and improves your revenue stream. Knowing that you’re getting paid faster does wonders for a provider’s morale.

6. Polish your online presence

Gone are the days when the majority of people searching for a new provider rely on referrals from family or friends. Studies show that 71% of people now search the internet instead, reading online reviews before contacting a healthcare provider. They expect an informative, individualized website where they can compare qualifications and specialties, request appointments at their convenience, communicate with their provider through a patient portal, view medications, and access educational resources. Testimonials are especially crucial.

"For many people, this is the first time that they’re using the internet to search for mental health resources. A website is a great way for both clients and providers to figure out whether the relationship will be a good match. We need to make sure that the experience is a good one. Also, it’s really important that practitioners have a line of sight into reviews and what people are saying. Whether you know it or not, individuals are evaluating your reviews, both good and bad, which will have a definite impact on the growth and quality of your practice,” says Liz Fobare, MSW, senior director of clinical product at Kareo."

This is actually good news for overburdened providers, because you can offload many of your online tasks using technology. Kareo Engage gives you a way to connect with patients throughout the entire care process. It helps you create a credible website that is customized to reflect your practice, drive traffic to your website with search engine optimization, and track online visits. With a secure messaging platform, you can send automated appointment reminders to minimize no-shows (and related frustrations). Clients can select appointment slots, and then complete intake forms online before coming to your office. When the visit is over, the system will send a survey, generating reviews that can be posted to your website. All these tasks are integrated with your EHR and performed behind the scenes, lightening the workload for both providers and office staff.

7. Take advantage of telehealth

The pandemic made telehealth ubiquitous almost overnight, impacting mental health more than any other specialty. Many MH providers now offer only telehealth services, in fact, transforming the nature of the consultation process and giving access to a much wider swatch of the population.

The benefits are obvious. You can cut down on office time and expenses. You can conduct consultations no matter where you are. But telehealth has brought stressors in its wake as well. Security can be a concern. So can HIPAA compliance. And many providers have had problems documenting telehealth visits, and collecting fees and copays when the client is not physically present.

Consider a sophisticated solution like Kareo Telehealth. Because it connects with your EHR and increases efficiencies, you’ll cut down on administrative chores and be able to see more clients in the day. You can respond to clients after hours or on weekends, reducing office costs and answering client needs more quickly. You can take notes directly in the software, and they go straight into the client’s chart via secure cloud technology. The system then bills for every interaction, even for short follow-up calls that might otherwise go under the radar.

Implementing Kareo Telehealth is as easy as flipping a switch in your EHR, so there’s no hassle with onboarding or training.

Best of all, clients report a 98% satisfaction rate with the service. Happier clients make for a happier provider.

Although it’s tempting to view COVID’s impact on mental health practitioners as the glass half empty, we can also see opportunities that make it half full. Awareness of mental health issues have come to the forefront, opening treatment options to a larger population. This means expanded possibilities for practice expansion. And despite the myriad pressures these changes have brought, they are also urging providers to investigate new technological solutions – modernizing practices in ways that benefit both providers and their clients.

To learn more about COVID-19’s impact on mental health providers and patients, click here to watch our on-demand webinar titled, “Modernized Client and Mental Health Practice: Accessibility and Mental Health Awareness For Your Patients”.

About the Author

Alesa Lightbourne is a prize-winning author, professor and former dean of an international business school. As a freelance writer, her clients have included Fortune...

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