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A High-Tech Approach to De-stigmatizing Mental Health

Written by Andrew Le, MD

PublishedJune 8, 2021

Welcome to the CEO Corner, where Buoy CEO and Co-founder Andrew Le, MD, sits down with industry leaders to chat about the provocative topics of healthcare today. Andrew recently spoke with Dr. Alisa Bahl, a clinical psychologist and chief strategy and innovation officer for Magellan Health and President of the Magellan CaresFoundation.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Andrew Le: Hi Alisa, thank you so much for taking the time today. To start, can you tell us about your background and role at Magellan?

Dr. Alisa Bahl: I am a clinical psychologist by background and have the privilege of leading strategy and innovation for Magellan Health. I love the culture at Magellan, and the way the team brings clinical expertise to life with a very high-touch, high-tech approach. I spend my days with clinical experts evaluating collaborators that we're bringing into the company. It’s a really exciting time – today now more than ever, people are really focused on destigmatizing behavioral health. And with that broad acceptance comes a real opportunity to consider a wide range of collaborations, while staying very intentional about how we support members and those we serve.

Andrew Le: Couldn’t agree more, Alisa, especially with the side effects from the pandemic looming over the nation. How would you frame the overall approach of Magellan as it pertains to healthcare navigation and making the patient journey easier?

Growing financial investments into behavioral health platforms allows for increased access to resources for individuals exploring behavioral health options.

Dr. Alisa Bahl: We've seen unprecedented investments from private equity funds in the behavioral health marketplace overall – last year especially. This has enabled a number of point solutions. We're working hard to bring the best point solutions together into a single platform where members can access the most innovative tools being offered in the market right now, while also ensuring we’re connecting providers where it makes sense.

Andrew: That's fantastic. I totally agree that there’s this proliferation of point solutions and the need to piece it all together for a person who, at the end of the day, is just looking to get better.

Alisa, you mentioned a singular focus on moving from behavioral health awareness to acceptance. And we saw last month (April) was rebranded from Autism Awareness Month to Autism Acceptance Month. Can you talk a little bit about why this is so important?

Alisa: It really shifts the conversation away from stigmatizing behavioral health issues, or in this case, Autism, to more of an inclusive approach, providing improved support and opportunities for people. For individuals with Autism, acceptance is often a barrier to getting improved support and expanded life opportunity. The leader of our Autism Connections program shared a quote with me from The Mighty contributor Emily Forsyth: "I believe awareness and acceptance come from opposite outlooks. Awareness seeks to outline how we are and enhances the differences and the distance between ways of being. Acceptance looks into the commonalities we share in the strength inherent in diversity." I personally felt that was a perfect way to think about this important conversation.

"I believe awareness and acceptance come from opposite outlooks. Awareness seeks to outline how we are and enhances the differences and the distance between ways of being. Acceptance looks into the commonalities we share in the strength inherent in diversity."

Emily Forsyth, "The Mighty" Contributor

Andrew: That’s so profound, Alisa – thank you for sharing. At Buoy, we're constantly thinking a lot about how our technology affects accessibility and inclusivity. How do you think digital health can improve accessibility and inclusivity?

Alisa: On its surface, you start with avoiding bias in evaluation. Historically, in mental health, we've been focused on what happens within a session. Now, we're looking beyond that to what's happening between sessions. We've invested in a company called NeuroFlow that maps the whole patient journey. There’s elevated risk when we have members who aren’t sitting face-to-face in a therapist’s office, but NeuroFlow helps us identify people who are having exacerbations and get really intentional about how we design our outreach using analytics.

Andrew: I couldn’t agree more, Alisa, that analytics are instrumental in closing gaps in the patient journey. It’s clear you have such a unique vantage point on healthcare.

In closing, I’d love to learn more about what you’re most excited about over the next five years.

Alisa: Well, for one – and as mentioned – there’s been a real pivot with conversations about mental health now turning mainstream. We have an entire generation of kids who are quite adept and open to discussions about emotions in a way that prior generations really haven't been. This is super exciting in terms of the reduction of stigma. There's been a ton of investment in these point solutions, and there will certainly be some consolidation over the next five years. And soon there will be a time when we’ll be focused on paying for mental health outcomes. We've been far behind the medical field in this – but this is what I’m most excited about. Approaching mental health services with more of a pay-for-performance model based on outcomes and what actually works.

About the participants:

Dr. Alisa Bahl, clinical psychologist and chief strategy and innovation officer for Magellan Health and President of the Magellan CaresFoundation.

Dr. Andrew Le, MD, CEO and Co-founder of Buoy Health.