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Although the COVID-19 pandemic cast the spotlight on provider stress and burnout, the issue has been around long before the virus appeared. And networks like Providence Health have already taken steps to address it.
The Washington-based health system, with more than 50 hospitals in eight states, rolled out its Telebehavioral Health Concierge program in January 2020, offering virtual care visits with a counselor within two days. They’ve since renamed it the Behavioral Health Concierge program and expanded its reach to include caregivers and family members in Oregon, California and Montana.
“We wanted to build something dedicated to caregivers,” says Josh Cutler, a licensed clinical social worker who helped launched the service. “Before and especially during (COVID-19), we have been at the center of an epidemic of burnout and suicide in healthcare. We needed to give (providers) something that would address that on their terms.”
Arpan Waghray, MD, a psychiatrist and chair of the health system’s behavioral medicine clinical practice group who joined Cutler in developing the program, says the platform not only connects with people in crisis, but can be used to provide health and wellness resources that help providers before they reach that crisis stage.
“You automatically equate mental health with mental illness, as opposed to mental health and wellness,” he says. “With this program, our goal was to move upstream and meet people where they are.”
That points to one of the strengths of an online program: Giving users the resources they need and the freedom to access what they need at their own pace. For those who don’t feel comfortable talking to someone else about their problems, a self-serve platform might be more effective.
“It’s very consumer-centric to do this, but it’s not very provider-centric,” Waghray says. “In some ways we have to adjust our thinking.”
Cutler notes that doctors and nurses are trained to give care, but often aren’t sure how or when to seek it themselves. They’re either uncertain of how to access help or embarrassed about needing it.
A telehealth platform makes it easier to find help, he says, and gives them the opportunity to connect discretely at the time and place of their choice.
“I can talk to people who are sitting at home or in their parked car,” he says. “It’s all about giving them the space to talk, and establishing that connection.”