It’s been a couple of months since students have gone back to school this fall and the transition has taken its usual toll on their behavioral health. For the fall of 2021, the COVID pandemic is yet another factor making the back-to-school transition difficult for students.
Behavioral health practitioners can expect to be feeling the brunt of the fall season’s impact on returning students. The pandemic has been the greatest disruption to students’ lives in generations, and many will need the assistance of behavioral health experts to navigate the new normal. Successful practice management requires an understanding of the impacts on the industry, as well as strategies for adapting to this unique time period.
Rising Demand for Behavioral Healthcare with School in Session
As schools across the county reopened this fall, mental health professionals braced themselves for an increase in the number of students needing help. This is true in any year, as the back-to-school transition is difficult for many students, and many schools identify students with mental health issues. The major difference this fall season is the concurrent impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The mental health toll of the pandemic on students has been well-documented. For adolescents aged 12-17 years, there was a 31% annual increase in mental health-related emergency room visits between 2019 and 2020. ER visits for suspected suicide attempts increased a whopping 50.6% among girls aged 12-17 years during the February 21–March 20, 2021 time period, compared to that same period in 2019. Other reports and anecdotal evidence point to increased feelings of isolation, anxiety, and acting out among school-age children during the pandemic.
With the return to school this fall, mental health practitioners around the country have seen an increase in anxiety among students. The return to in-person socializing and full-time in-person learning has contributed to social and academic anxiety. The risk of contracting a coronavirus infection is also a mental health factor, especially for those children still ineligible for vaccination. And the potential harm to the students’ families – through illness, death, job loss, income disruption, or other pandemic impacts – is yet another negative effect on mental wellbeing.
Effect of COVID Pandemic on Behavioral Health Practices
On top of the pandemic’s effect on students and society as a whole, there has been a profound effect on the behavioral health industry as well. Many mental health professionals have reported this was the most difficult year of their professional lives. With a huge increase in mental health needs and the large-scale shift to telehealth, this has been a time of disruption and adjustment for behavioral health providers.
Mental health providers have been swamped by the increased demand for their services. Even before the pandemic, providers were in short supply nationwide. Now waiting lists for practices are common, with many patients being turned away or foregoing services completely. A September 2020 American Psychological Association (APA) survey of nearly 1,800 psychologists found various impacts compared to pre-pandemic times, including (1) 74% of respondents seeing more patients with anxiety disorders, (2) 60% seeing more patients with depressive disorders, and (3) 30% seeing more patients overall.
On top of increased mental health issues and demand for mental health services, the sudden shift to telehealth has been another drastic industry change. When the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) relaxed its telehealth guidelines in response to the pandemic, telehealth sessions became the standard for behavioral health treatment.
The pandemic has already contributed to practitioner overwhelm and burnout, so the increased demand for mental health services with kids back in school may pose a major challenge to behavioral health practices. Many practices have struggled to keep up with the shift to telehealth, scrambling to implement the appropriate technology. This has been even more difficult for those practices relying on paper-based records instead of an electronic health record (EHR) system.
How Can Private Practices Adapt to Back-to-School Season?
Behavioral health practices can take steps to adapt to the increased demands of this unique COVID-era back-to-school season. A few of these steps are (1) maximizing their telehealth capabilities, (2) implementing measurement-based care, and (3) investing in EHR systems.
Maximizing Telehealth Capabilities
Practices should focus on creating a high-quality patient telehealth experience. One key here is implementing a telehealth platform that is secure, HIPAA-compliant, and patient-friendly. Providers should also optimize their equipment and telehealth settings, while also ensuring their patients are prepared for the telehealth experience. And in order to optimize payment, providers should understand the nuances of mental telehealth billing.
Using Measurement-Based Care
Practitioners who fail to utilize measurement-based care are missing out on an array of benefits. With the use of objective measures to assess patient progress, measurement-based care increases patient collaboration, provides clinicians with useful data, and boosts patient outcomes.
The failure to invest in an EHR system can be an albatross around the neck of any mental health practice. Using paper-based records and manual processes is an outmoded form of practice management. An EHR system will dramatically decrease a practice’s administrative workload and increase efficiency, especially when that system is equipped with other functions such as scheduling, billing, reporting and telehealth.
How an EHR Solution Can Help a Practice Navigate Back-to-School Season
The fall 2021 back-to-school season presents a challenging time for behavioral health practices. Along with the typical back-to-school increase in demand for mental health services, the pandemic continues to take its own mental health toll on students. While this has placed huge burdens on practitioners, there are ways to adapt. The optimized use of telehealth, measurement-based care, and a good EHR system will go a long way toward empowering practices to thrive during these trying times.
The Valant EHR system, specifically tailored to behavioral health, can help practices address these back-to-school challenges. Along with integrated clinical documentation, Valant also facilitates measurement-based care, provides a robust telehealth platform, and includes other functions such as ePrescribing, patient scheduling, and reporting.
To find out how Valant can help your practice navigate back-to-school season, request a personalized demo today.