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Blue Cross partners with Google on Mental Healthcare

William Payne
June 2, 2016
Part of the Blue Cross network of US healthcare providers is partnering with a Google start-up to help primary care doctors better coordinate mental health care with psychiatrists. The cooperation will see the use of sophisticated behavioural health management tools, including cloud based analytics and smartphone based patient support and patients' interactions app.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield healthcare provider Highmark, which provides healthcare in Pennsylvania and nearby states is utilising Google venture Quartet Health technology and data to help accelerate the process of referring patients from family physicians to psychiatrists.

Quartet is planning to mine millions of Highmark Blue Cross health claims to establish benchmarks for identifying patients with undiagnosed mental illness, addiction and behavioural health conditions.

In addition to the smartphone app and cloud based behavioural analytics, Quartet also provides telehealth links to connect patients in family physician offices to psychiatrists for video consultations.

“The next step toward true mental health parity comes from understanding the interconnection between brain illness and other chronic conditions, and treating them with equal emphasis,” said Patrick Kennedy, former Congressman for Rhode Island who championed the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008. Mr Kennedy now sits on the Board of Quartet.

“Mental health professionals often work in practice setting silos separate and apart from primary care physicians, making it difficult to communicate and collaborate. Having dedicated much of my career and life to this cause, it’s exciting for me to see how integrated care models such as the Highmark Quartet partnership one are translating to meaningful change in the market,” said Mr Kennedy.

“Physical and mental health go hand-in-hand, but recent studies have highlighted difficulties in coordinating treatment of both,” said Deborah Rice-Johnson, president of Highmark Health Plan. “Undiagnosed and untreated mental illness jeopardizes our members’ ability to care for their health, and can make it especially difficult for them to effectively manage chronic conditions. To help, Highmark is retooling its care management program to better identify and resolve any clinical, social and behavioral challenges that could potentially block members from receiving the care they need.”

“Everyone knows someone who is struggling with a behavioural health issue,” said Dr Duke Ruktanonchai, medical director of Behavioural Health at Highmark, “and, at the national level, people are not getting the help they need in a timely fashion.”

“Many primary care physicians don’t believe they have the time or expertise to deal with the complex nature of behavioural health issues. Layer on the fact that, in our current environment, referrals to specialists can take weeks or months. And top it off with the reality that people often delay seeking help until they are at a point of crisis. This is a critical situation in need of an urgent solution,” said Dr  Ruktanonchai.