3 Ways Patient Engagement Can Help Behavioral Health: Substance Abuse

3 Ways Patient Engagement Can Help Behavioral Health: Substance Abuse

Behavioral health problems rank high on the list of conditions that cause disability in the United States and they extract high costs from families as well as publicly funded health systems. Mental health problems such as substance abuse impacts not only the individual negatively, but also their families and communities.

A 2014 report from the United States recorded that 9.8 million people aged 18 and older had serious mental illnesses. Of the 18.5 million people reported to have at least one major depressive episode in that year, 2.8 million were youth, aged 12 to 17. 22.5 million Americans, ages 12 and above admitted to needing help recovering from alcohol or illicit drug use. By the year 2020, behavioral health and substance use disorders are expected to overtake all physical diseases as the major cause of disability in the world.

3 Ways Patient Engagement Helps Behavioral Health

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Substance abuse and alcoholism over a period of time can result in chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease. But there is no single solution or easy treatment that works for all. Treatment for addictions vary depending on the type of drug as well as the personality of the patient. Early interventions increase the chances of full recovery. But what is most important or recovery is the patient’s involvement and cooperation. Effective patient engagement has a significant impact on the treatment of behavioral health disorders.

1. Patient Engagement Increases Chances of Early Intervention

There is a social stigma associated with behavioral illnesses. Rather than denying or ignoring mental illnesses and allowing it to become a bigger problem, behavioral health services should aim to spread awareness of this issue and encourage people to come forward. Early intervention after the very first instance of the mental disorder, can make a significant impact towards its recovery. For effectively improving clinical and functional outcomes of behavioral health issues including substance abuse, coordinated and specialized care should be offered during or immediately after the first episode.

Since substance abuse and addiction are both mental disorders, they usually occur together with other mental illnesses. When patients present themselves with one, they should be screened for other possibilities and made aware of them, if any are present. For successful improvement in behavioral health, treatments and medications should address all the problems that co-occur, rather than focusing on one in isolation.

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Even when proper treatment is prescribed, it is useless unless the patient follows it as directed. Medication non-adherence is a significant problem that complicates health problems and increases hospital readmission rates. Patient engagement can improve medication adherence. Though medication management and prescription renewals or refills are traditionally managed by pharmacists, physicians also need to reach out to their patients to remind them why they need the medicines and to encourage them to continue on with the treatment.

Since substance abuse is a chronic behavioral health problem, consistent treatment from the earliest increases the likelihood of positive outcomes. But most drug-addicted people are hesitant to take treatment, so it's critical that treatments are readily available the moment these individuals are willing for treatment. More attention must be paid to patient management in such scenarios. Potential patients may be lost when the attention is delayed.

2. Patient Engagement Enables Access to Prevention Services

When patients are engaged in their healthcare treatment decisions, they tend to become healthier with better outcomes. Better patient engagement creates more trust between patients and their health care providers. This trust is a key factor for an effective patient provider communication.

To decrease the impact of behavioral health conditions in American communities it is essential to promote mental health in people and prevent substance use disorders among them. Patients can be engaged, from the time they check-in, with relevant and effective educational content regarding mental health to increase their knowledge on the subject.

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Newsletters, pamphlets, subject-related health magazines can be made available in waiting rooms, even the examination rooms can contain displays of information in an eye-catching way. Patient communication software come in handy here. Electronic newsletters can be sent to patients post their discharge. A well-informed patient will be able to discuss the treatment and take part in the decision process with his physicians in a more effective manner. Continuous patient engagement before, during and after-care help lower administrative costs while helping improve healthcare in general.

Many times, depression in patients with co-morbidities remain undiagnosed. As mentioned before, early intervention can make a notable improvement in the patient’s quality of life. This includes preventive services too. For instance, diabetic patients with renal disease are prone to depression. There are software that screen patient health records to identify such data and notify/remind physicians to screen such patients for mental conditions that may not be so obvious. Capturing behavioral health problems before they become a bigger issue can lead to higher Medicare risk adjustment ratings and risk adjustment factor scores.

3. Patient Engagement Improves Post-Discharge Treatment Adherence

Treatment for behavioral health, especial substance abuse requires long-term treatment, especially to ensure there is no relapse. Medication adherence during this time is of critical importance. Patients may often follow treatment while in a medical institution, but post-discharge treatment adherence usually poses a problem for many. In general, a minimum of 3 months of treatment is required to stop drug usage or atleast reduce their usage to a significant extent.

Drug addiction recovery normally requires multiple treatment episodes. Skipping treatments, even a single one, can lead to relapses to drug abuse. Since there is a high tendency for drug abuse patients to leave treatment prematurely, more strategies need to be implemented in increasing patient engagement to ensure complete their prescribed regimen.

Patient management and communication software can be used to encourage patients for support groups and treatments, to monitor their employment or education, to gain insights into their relapse risks, or to provide remote recovery support via messaging or video.

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Once a physician has correctly diagnosed and prescribed a treatment, it is the patients’ actions that ultimately determine the treatment outcome. In-depth patient-provider communication is essential for understanding what may motivate him or her to change, what incentives will be effective for abstinence and which skills will help them resist drug use. Engage the patient in figuring out constructive and rewarding activities to replace drug-using activities. Behavioral therapies such as family or group counseling is routinely used for drug abuse treatment. Such group participation and peer support programs facilitate better interpersonal relationships and encourage abstinence.

Successfully treating substance abuse requires an individual's treatment plan to be frequently assessed and adjusted as necessary to make certain it meets their changing needs. From psychotherapy and medications to vocational rehabilitation and legal services, a patient may need different combinations of treatments and services during the course of their recovery. Patient engagement is a must for physicians to be able to determine which approaches work best for that particular individual.

Conclusion

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Addictions are complex, though treatable diseases that impact brain function and behavior. Since substance abuse can alter the brain structure itself, the resulting physical and behavioral changes may persist long after the drug use has been stopped. Even after extended periods of abstinence drug abusers are at risk for relapse. For effective treatment and recovery from substance abuse, patient engagement is a must. The treatment needs to be suitable to the patient's age, gender, ethnicity, and culture. Rather than focusing on just the individual's drug abuse, the treatment should attend to his/her multiple needs.

Effective patient communication and engagement can help improve behavioral health in many ways. When patients are made aware of the cause, consequence of substance abuse, chances of early interventions increase. Medication adherence plays a major role in recovery, especially post-discharge.

When individuals can communicate via other means than phone such as SMS or Messaging, or even access remote behavioral health services via telehealth video or remote monitoring and check-in services, is a big benefit for the individual and the health system.

Patient engagement also improves patient-provider communication and helps identify potential behavioral health problems before they intensify and implement preventive measures accordingly. Imparting awareness, knowledge, and skills to handle such behavioral health conditions empower the patients to better follow the prescribed treatments and remain on a positive recovery path.