A Leader in Mental Health Care

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When the 2018-2019 Healthcare Quality Report Card was announced recently, Kaiser Permanente Northern California was recognized as a leader in the state for providing high-quality and overall clinical effectiveness in behavioral and mental health care. It was the only plan in California to receive 5 stars, the highest possible, from California’s Office of the Patient Advocate (OPA).

The annual report card provides California consumers with side-by-side comparisons of the state’s 16 largest HMOs and PPOs, rating them on national standard-of-care measures that involve treatment and prevention of a range of conditions that have significant implications for personal health.

Every year since 2015, Kaiser Permanente Northern California has received OPA’s highest rating for high-quality mental health care. Why is the report card important for consumers? Here’s how OPA, part of the California Health and Human Services Agency, explains it: “The stars tell you how successful each plan was at helping members get the behavioral and mental health care they needed. More stars are better.”

In this category, OPA evaluated 2017 measures, such as follow-up visits after hospitalization for mental illness; follow up visits and close monitoring of prescribed medication after a patient is diagnosed with depression; how quickly treatment is started, and continued, after a patient is diagnosed with drug or alcohol problem.

For Kaiser Permanente, the stars are more than just icons. The scores for each of these measures, as OPA describes, mean “that more patients got the right care at the right time.”

“This recognition is a tribute to the exceptional mental health care our physicians and therapists are providing our patients and members,” said Linda Kim, MD, chair of Regional Mental Health and Addiction Medicine for The Permanente Medical Group. “The OPA rating reflects the hard work that we have invested in delivering quality care and improved access, so our patients get the care they need when and how they need it.”

Building a National Model for Mental Health Care

Nearly 1 in 4 Americans from early adolescence to adulthood suffers with a mental health condition. Yet fewer than half will receive treatment.

In its commitment to advance mental health care for everyone, Kaiser Permanente continues to focus on increasing access by:

  • Hiring more care providers. KP has increased its number of mental health therapists by 30 percent since 2015. Therapists are now providing care to patients every day throughout the Northern California Region, in primary care clinics, emergency rooms, and labor and delivery departments, so they can meet patients where they are.
  • Applying innovation in providing care. The new Connect 2 Care Telepsychiatry Program is affording patients the ability to talk with a provider and start treatment within days through convenient virtual conferencing.
  • Partnering with community organizations to reduce stigma. Kaiser Permanente Northern California awarded $2 million in grants in 2018 to 25 community-based organizations that are working to reduce the stigma around mental illness. By raising awareness and spreading hope, we can help individuals talk about mental health without fear and judgement, and find care.
  • Expanding capacity with new facilities, improved behavioral health spaces. The Northern California Region completed new or refurbished behavioral health facilities in Santa Rosa, San Rafael, Sacramento, South San Francisco, and Redwood City. Kaiser Permanente Northern California has 12 more behavioral health sites in the planning and design stages.

“As an organization that believes more must be done, we are working hard to continue improving quality and access to care, not only through the work we’re doing now, but by building a national model for mental health care,” said Robin Betts, vice president of Quality and Clinical Effectiveness for Kaiser Permanente Northern California.

Measuring Outcomes and Patient Needs

As Americans struggle with mental health issues, measuring the outcomes of mental health treatment is key. In the same way clinicians measure cardiac or cancer care results, the same practice and rigor needs to be applied to mental health care.

Dr. Kim said it’s important to track patient outcomes to ensure they are getting better. That also means talking with patients to make sure they are getting the treatment they need, she said.

Kaiser Permanente has convened a multi-disciplinary group of leaders to develop and bring together the best clinical and evidenced-based practices in mental health care. The goal: to determine the best care with greater accuracy and share those findings with other care providers throughout the United States.

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