If you've read this blog before, you've likely heard this statistic - one in five Americans suffer from a mental health issue, which roughly includes about 44 million Americans. The Journal of the American Medical Association reports that the "disease burden" (cost and outcomes) of mental health and substance use disorders was higher than for any other condition in 2015.
In short, the need for behavioral health providers is immense.
How do we know there is a shortage?
Like it or not, the unfortunate reality for the behavioral health community is the lack of providers in certain areas.
According the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, approximately 111 million Americans live in an area currently experiencing a shortage of behavioral health professionals. Additional alarming shortage statistics include:
More than half of U.S. counties have zero psychiatrists, according to a 2016 Health Affairs report
Two-thirds of primary care physicians report difficulty referring patients for mental health care, twice the number reported for any other specialty
The number of patients going to emergency departments for psychiatric services over a recent three-year period increased 42 percent, according to the National Council for Behavioral Health
How does the behavioral health provider shortage compare to other specialties?
Behavioral health is far from the only specialty experiencing a provider shortage. In a new study commissioned by the Association of American Medical Colleges, the United States will face a shortage of between 40,800 and 104,900 physicians by 2030. Simply put, the numbers of new primary care physicians and other medical specialists are not keeping pace with the demands of a growing and aging population.
Estimated shortage numbers per specialty by 2030:
Primary care: 8,700 - 43,100 physicians
Non-primary care specialties: 33,500 - 61,800 physicians
Surgeons: 19,800 - 29,000 surgeons
Other specialties (radiology, neurology, psychiatry, etc.): 18,600 - 31,800
What areas are most affected by the behavioral health shortage?
The behavioral health shortage is widespread in its impact across the United States, but some states have been particularly affected.
There are more than 5,000 HPSAs across the United States with at least 5,900 providers needed to remove the HPSA designation
California and Texas are far and away the states with the most HPSA designations - 468 and 425, respectively. The third-highest state is Michigan with 269 HPSA designations.
Texas also needs 432 practitioners to remove the HPSA designation, the most of any state. Arizona and Mississippi follow with 398 and 372, respectively.
TELEMEDICINE impact on behavioral health provider shortage
Since telehealth technology provides healthcare practitioners and patients the ability to conduct a consultation virtually, providers are able to easily expand their geographical reach. For behavioral health professionals, they would no longer be confined to only seeing patients who had the ability to drive to their practice.
Furthermore, by catering to patients' convenience and giving them the ability to receive the mental health care they need from the comforts and privacy of their own home, for example, the technology also helps to reduce the stigma associated with behavioral health that has long prevented patients from seeking care in the first place.
Among other benefits, telemedicine enables behavioral health providers to better compensate for the lower numbers of actual professionals currently practicing and reach more mental health patients in need.