Utilizing Virtual Care to Address Physical, Behavioral, and Social Components of Health

Guest Authored by Clayton Wilson, Research Assistant, Ziegler

Improving one’s health and wellness is typically more complex than simply improving access to physicians. While increased access to care is critically important – particularly during the current pandemic – long-term, sustained improvements in health and wellness often require a more holistic, integrated approach that addresses the physical, behavioral, and social components of wellbeing, all of which are deeply interrelated pieces of overall health. Fortunately, virtual care models have the unique ability to influence patient outcomes by identifying and addressing not only the physical phenomenon of an illness but also the behavioral and social factors that may be more apparent and more effectively treated outside of the office environment.

The psychological factors of health – or more broadly, “behavioral health” – are critical components of wellbeing. Millions of Americans battle mental health challenges (including substance use disorders) and the prevalence of mental health conditions is increasing, particularly among youth(1). Unfortunately, many are not getting the care they need for multiple reasons, including difficulties physically accessing care during the time of COVID-19; a shortage of mental health clinicians, particularly in rural areas; numerous stigmas associated with mental health care; and, if care is obtained, the high out-of-pocket spending often required. Consequences of these dilemmas are significant, as those with mental health conditions, on average, visit emergency departments more often and submit more medical claims per year than the overall population(2). Additionally, untreated/improperly treated mental illness can lead to numerous “societal costs,” including productivity losses, unemployment, and others.

As people become more familiar with the spectrum of behavioral health challenges and as social distancing continues into the foreseeable future, many may turn to virtual behavioral health offerings as a solution. Virtual behavioral health offerings have rapidly evolved in the last two years and have gained publicity during the current pandemic. Many offerings allow patients to access convenient treatment options with appropriate providers (psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, etc.) while also alleviating bottlenecks in emergency rooms and other acute settings. Because behavioral health providers usually do not need to physically touch patients, and because patients may prefer to access behavioral health services discretely, using virtual care technologies to deliver behavioral health services is one of the most impactful use cases of virtual care.

In addition to addressing behavioral health, virtual care is becoming an increasingly effective way to address challenges related to social determinants of health, many of which are particularly pertinent to Medicaid recipients. Chronic conditions and behavioral health challenges are more prevalent amongst Medical recipients than the general population, and COVID-19 has disproportionally impacted low-income communities. Additionally, many physical health conditions can be exacerbated by economic and social challenges disproportionally faced by Medicaid recipients, including barriers in accessing transportation, lack of reliable/safe housing, challenges accessing healthy food, inflexible work schedules, and difficulties finding providers who accept Medicaid. Virtual care has the potential to combat some of these challenges by increasing beneficiaries’ abilities to conveniently access care and by helping providers optimize their time and increase efficiency. No virtual care program will succeed without being relevant in the social context where it is being deployed. Being conscious of consumers’ access to transportation, food, community-based resources, housing, financial assistance, and other services, and removing barriers to these resources are key components of engaging people in their care, ensuring positive outcomes, and controlling costs.

Virtual care can address physical, behavioral, and social aspects of health by improving access to health resources and diverse caregivers – physicians, therapists, even family, and friends – at the times and in the places where patients most need them. As such, virtual care has the unique ability to meaningfully impact care delivery and will undoubtedly be an integral tool in the healthcare industry both in the time of COVID-19 and beyond.

(1) “A Rise in Depression Among Teens And Young Adults Could Be Linked To Social Media Use.” National Public Radio. March 14, 2019.
(2) “Anxiety is expensive: Employee mental health costs rise twice as fast as all other medical expenses.” CNBC. September 27, 2018.

Author Bio
Clayton Wilson is a research assistant at Ziegler and was previously a vice president in Raymond James’ healthcare investment banking group. Ziegler is a privately held investment bank, capital markets, wealth management, and alternative investments firm specializing in the healthcare, senior living, education, and religion sectors, as well as general municipal and structured finance.

Earlier this year, Ziegler published its new white paper, “Deconstructing the Telehealth Industry: Part III.” To obtain a copy of the white paper, please visit https://www.ziegler.com/telehealth-part-iii.

This document may contain forward-looking statements, which may or may not come to fruition depending on certain circumstances. Information contained or referenced in this document is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a solicitation of any security or services. B.C. Ziegler and Company | Member SIPC & FINRA