Source: Horizon Health News
From the moment the COVID-19 pandemic began to unfold, Suzanne Kunis, the Vice President for Behavioral Health at Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey (Horizon BCBSNJ), knew that a wave of anxiety, depression, substance disorders and other mental health problems was about to crash: in addition to a career based in mental health, she saw it happen after both 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy.
AbleTo, a leading provider of telephonic mental health care, had worked with Horizon BCBSNJ to treat mostly those with chronic illnesses like diabetes or members recovering from serious health events like heart surgery. But when the pandemic began, Kunis collaborated with AbleTo to alter their relationship and get ready for the wider swath of people who would need help coping with their rising stress and anxiety levels.
Fortunately, the company was already in the process of developing a teletherapy program to meet the needs of the broader population even before the pandemic. “The outbreak and ensuing mental health crisis gave us a quick pathway to make this new teletherapy available in a really timely and relevant way,” said Reena Pande, MD, chief medical officer at AbleTo.
Working with a licensed therapist, via phone or video chat, Horizon BCBSNJ members can learn tools and strategies to help them manage stress and anxiety. These one-on-one, confidential sessions can be scheduled at any time, with next day appointments available.
Most AbleTo participants complete up to eight weeks of treatment, with weekly sessions lasting about 45 minutes. The sessions are led by highly trained therapists and are based on the evidence-based clinical techniques of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
One group is particularly concerning: workers on the front lines. “In one case, we are seeing that employees from a large hospital system have significantly greater anxiety levels compared to what we saw prior to the outbreak,” said Pande.
Can online therapy be as valuable as in-person sessions? People who have used AbleTo’s services have seen decreases in depression by 56 percent, anxiety by 51 percent and stress by 46 percent.
“For Horizon BCBSNJ members, it’s never been easier or more affordable to access telemedicine, including for mental health challenges,” said Kunis. “Getting high-quality care shouldn’t be limited to in-person office visits, especially when we still need to relieve the burden on our health care system.”