Streamlining Mental Health Treatment

Digital Tools Can Help Providers Triage Mental Health Patients

By Megan Headley

Mental health issues continue to rise, as do shortages in the number of behavioral health professionals available to treat them. The nonprofit Mental Health America states that more than half of adults with a mental illness do not receive treatment, for a total of over 27 million adults in the U.S. In its 2022 State of Mental Health in America report, the organization found that 67% of adults with a mental illness in Hawaii, the bottom-ranked state, did not receive treatment. Even in Vermont, the top-ranked state, 43% of adults experiencing mental illness were not receiving treatment.

The National Council for Mental Wellbeing attributes this problem largely to barriers to access, including cost, availability, and wait times. The organization’s research found that over a 12-month period beginning in 2021, these obstacles prevented 43% of U.S. adults who reported needing substance use or mental healthcare from receiving it.

Digital technology providers are seeking to address the availability factor. A number of studies have demonstrated that online therapy can provide high rates of satisfaction and effective treatment for issues including anxiety and depression. By working through payers and healthcare providers, companies like the digital care delivery platform Amwell ensure that treatment providers are licensed, solutions are HIPAA-protected, and individuals facing mental health struggles are aware of their options.

Through its Comprehensive Behavioral Health Program, Amwell provides an online therapy program that enables payers and healthcare providers to deliver scalable, integrated solutions including virtual therapy and psychiatry, coaching, and digital mental health programs.

“Our business model is heavily rooted in enabling and supporting health plans, health systems, and providers,” explains Lindsay Henderson, PsyD, director of psychological services for Amwell. “With everything that we do, we’re focused on enabling the people who deliver healthcare and do a really great job at it, with more tools in their toolkit to better serve patients and members and close some of those gaps in care.”

Amwell’s Comprehensive Behavioral Health Program combines the digital cognitive behavioral health programs of SilverCloud Health, the digital mental health company it acquired in 2021, with virtual care provided by therapists and psychiatrists from Amwell Medical Group. Through the program, patients undergo an evaluation that guides them toward a solution—including self-guided and coach-supported care, virtual therapy, and psychiatry—that meets both their needs and the healthcare provider’s availability.

Self-guided pathways provide support for individuals who suffer from chronic medical illness and other behavioral health struggles. However, these pathways can also help primary care providers connect patients with immediate support even when the provider doesn’t have the resources available to provide therapy right away.

Healthcare providers as well as patients benefit from this self-guided work, Henderson says. “It’s really about prepping and priming a patient for therapy,” she says. “By the time they get in front of a therapist for the first time, they’ve already got this foundation of cognitive behavioral therapy [CBT] knowledge, language, and tools that will accelerate their progress and the rate at which they can work effectively with their therapist.”

Building the patient’s knowledge about how to maximize the effectiveness of their therapy can accelerate their process and the potential for results. This in turn can help providers reach more patients waiting for mental health services.

“What excites me about this is that if I have someone coming in for therapy and they’ve had even a slight introduction to the digital CBT tools that [a program] offers, it’s like we’re starting at session three instead of session one. This reduces the burden on therapists to teach the basics to the patient, and it accelerates and improves the quality of the therapy that we can offer,” Henderson says.

Because patients reach this solution through payers and healthcare providers, rather than an internet search, it also has the potential to close the gaps in care for patients who may benefit from mental healthcare but don’t pursue it. With encouragement and follow-up from their primary care provider, patients may be more likely to pursue the right level of support needed to better manage their health.

This proactive approach to behavioral healthcare can help reduce the costs of more serious reactive care. To be effective, however, healthcare providers need to build patient awareness around their options. “We have to work to educate people on what to look for when they are choosing a digital tool or suite of services,” Henderson says.

Megan Headley is a freelance writer and owner of ClearStory Publications. She can be reached at