Thursday, April 06 | Thought Leadership, Human Services, Netsmart in the Community

Expanding Access to Care for Better Public Health

By Andy Heeren, Senior Director of Public Health

According to a poll released in May 2022 by the National Council for Mental Wellbeing, 43% of U.S. adults who say they needed substance use or mental health services had unmet needs. Barriers to care made a variety of negative impacts including: 


  • Cost-related issues prevented 37% of individuals from receiving mental health care and 31% from substance use care
  • Location prevented 28% of those seeking mental health care and 22% seeking substance use care, especially in rural areas
  • Visit format options (telehealth or in-person) limited 25% of those from receiving mental health care and 31% from substance use care
  • Appointment availability and wait times prevented 21% from receiving mental health care and 28% from receiving substance use care

For public health agencies – already battered by the pandemic and staff shortages – meeting the demand may seem like an insurmountable challenge. But for all the damage the pandemic has done, it has accelerated the usage and the acceptance of alternative approaches to providing care and services. Technology that supports virtual care, services in the field and communication and collaboration among providers can be leveraged to expand access to care, improve outcomes and help clinicians get more done in less time with less stress.

To combat this, agencies can develop a strategy to integrate these appropriate technology platforms into their operations and serve the growing need for the need for mental health services and substance use treatment.

Virtual care

To become an integral part of service delivery, virtual care technology must offer more than secure, real-time videoconferencing capabilities. The platform should offer functionality that creates as nearly as possible the same substance and connection as an in-person visit:

  • Full integration with the electronic health record (EHR) to give clinicians access to up-to-date information
  • Support for remote monitoring and capture of patient data
  • Ability to schedule and launch a virtual visit from the EHR
  • Available to consumer/patient with no registration or download
  • Low bandwidth requirements so virtual visits can take place in places with weaker internet connectivity

Beyond the technical capabilities, agencies should also focus on strategies to make it possible for consumers without internet or smartphones to access virtual care. Social workers can engage with community resources, such as libraries, churches and shelters, to provide access to a computer in  a private area.

Mobile technology for services in the field

Mobile technology lets agencies increase community outreach, extending services to consumers who otherwise cannot access services. It can extend the functionality of the EHR and allow clinicians to deliver quality care anywhere. But the number one requirement must be ease of use –  the technology should simplify and support service delivery, not complicate it.

Mobile solution functionality should include:

  • Access to client charts wherever services are provided
  • Ability to update offline client information contained in forms and/or assessments
  • Automatic synchronization with EHR upon connectivity, increasing accuracy and timeliness of documentation
  • Support for dynamic forms and e-signatures to eliminate paper and manual data entry enter

In addition to developing a mobile technology strategy, agencies should also focus on how they will promote field services, targeting consumers who may otherwise miss or skip follow-up visits and therapy.

Communication and collaboration among providers

Agencies need to connect with the larger healthcare ecosystem to coordinate care, make informed decisions at the point of care and seamlessly facilitate referrals to community partners.

An integration engine that enhances interoperability can eliminate data siloes and empower a more holistic and whole-person view within a system. The integration engine should support federal and state policies and standards for health information exchange, including privacy and security standards (such as HIPAA), technology interoperability standards (such as Direct) and message types (such as HL7 and CCDA).

In addition, the integration engine should be able to:

  • Incorporate discrete data, including lab results and HIE information, from external sources into the workflow and treatment plans for individuals
  • Support both consent to send and consent to query scenarios for health information exchanges (HIEs)
  • Support secure Direct Messaging internally among care team members, as well as externally with large healthcare systems, public health agencies, HIEs and laboratories

As a result, agencies can reduce costs and improve safety by minimizing redundant or unnecessary treatment. The populations they serve benefit by receiving true, whole-person care that is coordinated across disciplines, care settings and providers.

Learn more about how Netsmart is working to transform public health through technology, connections and collaboration. 


Meet the Author

Andy Heeren · Senior Director of Public Health

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