A few years ago, Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin health network saw that its behavioral health services weren't meeting local demand. Patients with mild-to-moderate mental health issues would receive a referral for one-on-one visits with a psychiatrist or psychologist and often faced a long wait for an appointment.
Froedtert also discovered many of their patients with multiple chronic conditions, which affect 1 in 2 adults and account for 86% of healthcare costs, have underlying mental or behavioral health conditions, which make them difficult to treat effectively.
So the system, which has three hospitals in eastern Wisconsin, looked into delivering cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, through digital technology.
Digital CBT works by asking primary-care patients who have been flagged for services to enroll in eight to 12 weeks of online sessions consisting of question-and-answer modules similar to what a patient might receive during a psychotherapy session.
Patients can move at their own pace, accessing the CBT module at any time by computer or smartphone. Once a week, a "supporter" checks a patient's progress and relays their assessment to a care team that can determine whether more intensive treatment is needed.
Relatively new to the U.S., digital CBT tools have been widely deployed in countries such as Australia, where online CBT programs are offered through the country's universal access healthcare system, and in the United Kingdom through its National Health Service.
They're getting more attention now from U.S. hospitals and health systems, which see them as a way to supplement their effort to integrate behavioral health into primary-care settings and overcome a shortage of specialists.