Health plans use digital and AI strategies to tackle mental health issues

More health plans are turning to technology-driven methods to address the growing mental health needs of their members.

On Monday, Blue Shield of California announced it is launching BlueSky—a collaboration with the California Department of Education and a host of not-for-profits—to make online and other mental health resources available to California's middle- and high school students.

In addition to providing online resources, the BlueSky initiative will provide: one-on-one therapy for students; youth mental health first aid training for many of California’s public school teachers and staff; and student-led peer groups in high schools.

"Mental and emotional health play an essential role in a person's overall well-being, starting in childhood," says Paul Markovich, president and CEO of Blue Shield of California. "We all face adversity, yet each person's future depends on his or her ability to cope with life's challenges. Our goal through Blue Shield of California BlueSky is to help students develop the resilience and emotional well-being today that will give them a lifetime of good health."

Rosalind Blue Shield of California BlueSky
School-based mental health clinician Rosalind Kingsley-Hurst sits down with a high school student for a one-on-one session. Rosalind is one of 19 mental health professionals recently placed in public schools in Alameda and San Diego counties through Blue Shield of California’s BlueSky initiative on student mental health.

The BlueSky initiative, which will include organizations such as Wellness Together, National Alliance on Mental Illness California and DoSomething.org, will be evaluated by a research team from the University of California following its initial pilot to determine the impact on student- and school-level outcomes, the Blues plan says.

Blue Shield of California’s launch of BlueSky follows the announcement of a new partnership between healthcare technology firm Quartet Health and health insurer Cambia Health Solutions in late November. The partnership enables Quartet’s artificial intelligence-driven technology to help integrate primary care with mental healthcare.

The partnership—to launch first in Washington and later in Oregon, Idaho and Utah—will enable healthcare providers to easily recommend mental healthcare by connecting them with resources and a network of mental healthcare providers, Cambia says. Quartet’s technology will also connect Cambia members with telehealth and online mental health options. Quartet’s platform will also enable referring healthcare providers to share notes with mental health clinicians in support of their mutual patients.

“Our health plans are focused on collaborating with providers to improve quality of care, access and affordability,” says Cheryl Pegus, president of consumer health solutions and chief medical officer for Cambia. “We are deeply committed to delivering an integrated approach to behavioral health that will ensure people can access the care they need on their terms.”

David Wennberg, MD, CEO of Quartet, says mental health is an important part of a person’s overall health, yet it can be difficult to get connected to the right care. “We believe that mental health is health, and strive to get people the right care at the right time.”

Last month, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts announced it will be adding digital cognitive behavioral therapy to help its members struggling with depression, insomnia, stress and anxiety. The Blues plan is expanding its digital platform to include Learn to Live’s evidence-based cognitive behavioral therapy as part of BCBSMA’s Emerging Solutions portfolio, launched in July 2018, to curate market-leading health solutions and provide advice to employer customers.

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