Kaiser Permanente doctors and therapists now have the ability to refer their patients to evidenced-based self-care apps through their electronic health record system. With an easy referral to a program, Kaiser Permanente patients can begin using it on their own or under the advice of a clinician — free of cost.
A brand new case study shows that patients are more receptive to utilizing self-care apps and feel better when referred by a clinician. These are among the takeaways printed in NEJM Catalyst Innovations in Care Delivery. This case study offers important insights to support the integration of mental health programs in care and expand patient engagement with electronic tools as part of the overall treatment program.
“What we’re tapping into is the existing relationship people have with their Kaiser Permanente therapist. We know that our patients are more likely to use these digital resources if their provider refers them,” said Don Mordecai, MD, national leader for mental health and wellness at Kaiser Permanente. “Digital therapeutics such as mental health apps have a clear place in a care plan and it’s very exciting to be on the forefront of this.”
In 2018, Kaiser Permanente started providing patients access to self-care apps simply by signing into their kp.org account. The organization also trained clinicians on the use of their apps, workflow, documentation, and even evidence-based best practices. Observing the rapid expansion of this app referral effort earlier this season, clinicians referred 44,000 mental health care patients to the digital tools. More recent data shows program referrals have increased to 115,000, and the number continues to grow.
The role apps play within an overall treatment program
The pandemic is taking a toll on Americans’ psychological well-being. The prevalence of depression in U.S. adults is 3 times higher than before the COVID-19 pandemic started. When mental health issues are left untreated, they could get worse. Self-care apps for meditation, mindfulness, and cognitive behavioral therapy can offer substantial help for individuals with mild-to-moderate depression or anxiety.
The case study demonstrated promising results that more patients utilize the self-care apps when called by a clinician than when they needed to find self-care apps by themselves. The apps Kaiser Permanente offers in clinical settings include Calm, Headspace, and Whil — meditation and mindfulness programs targeted at reducing stress and stress, and improving sleep — and myStrength, SilverCloud, and Thrive — cognitive behavioral treatment apps providing higher-touch guided assistance through interactive tasks and/or coaching. All these programs are confidential and secure and accessible to Kaiser Permanente members free of expense to them. Adult members may get Calm and myStrength through kp.org with no clinician’s referral.
“I suffer from anxiety. I cannot stop thinking,” said Kaiser Permanente member Rosa Salguero-Rodriguez. “So, I started using Calm. I practice the sessions like breathing and gratitude, and morning exercises and stretching. Now, I can relax more and sleep better.”
While Kaiser Permanente self-care apps resources don’t replace treatment or clinical guidance, they provide extra support.
“It’s been amazing to watch patients’ progress just by using the apps in between sessions,” said Leigh Miller, a Kaiser Permanente clinical social worker who offered feedback during early testing. “We found that these tools really enhanced how we support our patients’ mental health and we are thrilled to see the positive changes in our patients.”
Ongoing commitment to wellness and mental health
Kaiser Permanente’s focus on encouraging members to use self-care apps is part of its continuing commitment to healing the mental health and wellness needs of its members and communities. Kaiser Permanente offers mental health care focused on early intervention, Personalized therapy, patient support and empowerment, and the most recent innovations in care delivery, including virtual care.