APA Makes a Leap Forward for Consumerism, Healthcare Industry Lags
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) created quite a stir last month. Coinciding with the annual May observation of Mental Health Month, the APA released a “first-of-its-kind book” designed to empower consumers. According to KHN, the book offers “plain English” explanations of mental health risk factors, symptoms, treatment options and more based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders guide that health providers use to determine insurance coverage.
Why did this publication draw so much attention? Because with this move, the APA just outflanked the rest of the healthcare industry in providing a much needed tool to support healthcare consumerism.
A Critical Step Forward to Destigmatizing Mental Health
Remember Fatal Attraction? In the film, Glenn Close played the troubled lead character, Alex, and in studying for that role, she realized another calling — as an advocate for destigmatizing mental illness. With a sister diagnosed with bipolar disorder and a nephew diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, Close has put her energies into co-founding a non-profit organization, Bring Change 2 Mind to bring the issue out into the open.
Close has said, “It is an odd paradox that as a society, which can now speak openly and unabashedly about topics that were once unspeakable, still remains largely silent when it comes to mental illness.”
In recent years, thanks in no small part to the efforts of advocates like Close, mental health issues have been gaining more visibility and acceptance. The Affordable Care Act provided the largest expansion of mental health and substance abuse coverage in a generation with its requirement for mandatory coverage. With the APA announcement, mental health providers are taking an important step in fixing a fragmented care model that was clearly failing a good number of healthcare consumers.
The book is expected to help patients in 4 distinct ways:
- Recognizing Mental Health Issues. At a launch party for the book, former Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy, who himself was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and alcoholism, said a book like this would have helped his family and friends recognize the signs of his own struggles. He admitted, “I was the last one to know I had a problem, and that’s often the case for those of us in crisis.”
- Avoiding Misinformation. Google is typically one of the first places a person looks for information about a mental illness when they suspect there is a problem or after being diagnosed — and that is unfortunate. While there are many good websites, mental health support forums and others, with reliable information, the Internet is also rife with “misinformation and horror stories,” says Paul Gionfriddo, president of mental health advocacy group Mental Health America. The book includes success stories, along with details about managing mental health issues and treatment options, to offer a more balanced perspective for healthcare consumers with mental illness.
- Empowering Patient & Family Advocacy. Jeff Bornstein, a psychiatrist and spokesperson for the APA, notes that the book will help patients and family members speak up for themselves rather than relying only on clinicians to speak on their behalf. This is especially important when there is a dispute about health coverage. With this tool, Bornstein says, the patient can talk directly with the payor and say, “‘I’m telling you, I have this symptom, it’s part of diagnosis X, Y and Z. Why are you not letting me have the treatment I need?’” It must be noted, however, that it is important to have a professional diagnosis when engaging in such a dispute.
- Encouraging Patient Engagement. KHN also received feedback from a patient who said that, for nearly a year after her diagnosis of bipolar disorder following a psychotic episode, she avoided treatment because she was so fearful of her condition based on media reports that focused on violence and mental illness. She told KHN that, “It felt like a hopeless situation. If I’d had a resource that explained my symptoms… and explained how complying with treatment could produce long-term stability I would not have been… resistant.”
Could Similar Tools Help Patients Manage Chronic Health Conditions?
Like the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, many health-related materials do not provide the straight-forward language and explanations that healthcare consumers need. As the patient described above said, consumers are more likely to be compliant with treatment when they are better informed.
Healthcare providers need to take a close look at how they are communicating with patients. Perhaps a different message or a different channel for delivering that message would empower and engage certain individuals more completely. Even with the APA’s new book, some healthcare consumers may not seek out the resource, whether for a lack of awareness or information resource format preferences.
Understanding how to connect with target segments must go beyond a common diagnosis — whether they are facing depression or diabetes. Psychographic insights, based on a patient’s motivations, beliefs and values, can help a healthcare professional better engage different patient types and activate healthy behaviors. Psychographic segmentation groups patients according to shared motivations and psychological traits.
The 2015 c2b Consumer Diagnostic, a national study of healthcare consumer attitudes and behaviors, found differences in incidence for mental/emotional health conditions among five psychographic segments:
Note: Each psychographic segment has a letter designating its column (e.g., Balance Seekers are in column a). A letter appearing under the incidence % means that number is statistically greater (at 95% confidence) than the number appearing in the column corresponding to that letter. For example, 19% of Direction Takers report that they have been diagnosed with Anxiety, and this is statistically greater than the 14% for column a (Balance Seekers), column b (Willful Endurers), and column c (Priority Jugglers).
Each psychographic segment approaches health and wellness differently, with unique motivations and communication preferences. In fact, the c2b Consumer Diagnostic found that Balance Seekers and Self Achievers were twice as likely as Direction Takers to refer to a book when investigating their health conditions. This must be taken into consideration when healthcare professionals work to empower their patients with self-driven solutions.
Using psychographic segmentation, hospitals and other healthcare providers, including mental health providers, can identify meaningful differences among the larger patient population and fine-tune the tools they offer to best engage with patients based on their motivations and beliefs.