On December 13, President Barack Obama signed into law a broad and sweeping healthcare provision known as the 21st Century Cures Act. In these contentious political times, the law is being heralded as a rare show of bipartisanism after it passed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 392-26 and in the Senate by a vote of 94–5.
The $6.3 billion bill is nearly 1,000 pages long and covers a wide range of initiatives, including:
- $1.8 billion for The Cancer Moonshot, a massive research initiative championed by Vice President Joe Biden whose son died of cancer in 2015.
- $1.56 billion for the BRAIN Initiative, a project to map the individual cells and complex neural circuits of the human brain.
- $1.4 billion for the Precision Medicine Initiative, a project to collect genetic data on one million American volunteers to help develop new treatments for disease.
The bill also includes the Mental Health Reform Act of 2016, which NPR called “the most significant piece of mental health legislation since the 2008 law requiring equal insurance coverage for mental and physical health.”
“There is now an increased awareness that mental health should not be considered separately from medical illness,” said Kirit Pandit, president and CTO of VitreosHealth. “Providing separate plans or coverage may prevent patients from seeking help for mental illness, and this puts them at increased risk of adverse events for medical conditions. This act is a significant step in the right direction.”
In addition to strengthening laws that place mental healthcare on par with physical health, The 21st Century Cures Act includes grants to increase the number of psychologists and psychiatrists, who are in short supply across the country.
These provisions come at a time of crisis for the healthcare community, as the need for mental and behavioral health services continues to increase. A recent study by the American College of Emergency Physicians found that emergency rooms are becoming overburdened with patients in need of mental health care.
The study found that many ERs are unequipped to handle this influx. Of the more than 1,700 ER physicians who responded to the survey, nearly 1,300 reported seeing patients at least once a shift that required hospitalization for psychiatric treatment, and less than 20 percent of ERs have a psychiatrist on call.
“Various studies have concluded that the presence of mental health and substance abuse issues increases costs by a factor of 3-5 compared to patients without a mental health condition,” said Pandit. “The goal is to be able to diagnose a mental health condition early before these conditions become an issue for the ER. If a primary physician can manage the mental health part of the disease burden effectively, it puts them in an ideal position to start preventive care management to address any non-compliance to care guidelines before they become a detriment to the patient and the healthcare industry.”
As indicated by the 21st Century Cures Act, innovation is needed to address this growing mental health concern. One solution may exist in new and emerging predictive and prescriptive analytic models.
“Predictive modeling can help identify patients with a high risk for mental illness and substance abuse or patients who may have a relapse,” said Pandit. “That’s why VitreosHealth has recently released new predictive models for these hard-to-find risk factors.
“For these risk models to work, there needs to be sufficient data available on patient and family history, including social determinants. VitreosHealth pulls together various data sources – such as electronic health records, medical claims, pharmacy claims, social determinants, risk assessments, screenings, and more. Certain markers or risk factors are identified and some of these are used to predict an onset of mental disease. Others can be used to predict an adverse event, such as a hospitalization, due to the presence of a known mental disease.”
Through a comprehensive look at these factors, providers can develop outreach programs to help patients manage a mental health condition before it becomes detrimental. It is also possible to determine those who are most likely to have issues with compliance, so special care can be provided.
“Predictive analytics can certainly help in identifying the root causes of why certain patients with mental health do better than others,” said Pandit. “Is it social support, medications, or something else? The availability of social networks and other data can also be used effectively in identifying these root causes and using them to predict those patients that have a higher likelihood of improving.”
Innovation and embracing new technologies is the key to keeping the looming mental health crisis at bay.