VH Insights

Crisis Stabilization
July 12, 2022

Crisis Stabilization: 6 Ways to Transform Your Approach

Crisis stabilization is a long-standing challenge for behavioral health (BH) organizations. The Covid-19 pandemic intensified the demand for mental health services, while also imposing limitations on their availability. On top of pandemic-related issues, recent violent events are causing widespread stress and anxiety, and taking a collective toll on mental health, psychology experts say.

As a result, crisis stabilization – the process of getting individuals who are experiencing an acute mental health crisis the short-term, intensive care services needed to address and stabilize the crisis – has become even more complex, leading to poorer outcomes and a lot of stress on care management teams and mental health providers.

BH organizations need a better way to serve people in crisis, ensuring they get the right treatment quickly to prevent potentially avoidable emergency department (ED) visits, admissions, readmissions, and more dire consequences like self-harm or harm to others. Here’s a look at how an AI-driven care management platform can unlock more efficient, individualized crisis response.

Current Challenges Increasing the Demand for Crisis Stabilization Units

The pandemic may have loosened its grip, but the effects on mental health services still linger – particularly, strains on crisis stabilization unit (CSU) staffing, bed availability in psychiatric treatment centers, and more limited access to critical services that help keep individuals stable and out of the hospital.

Here’s a deeper dive:

The acuity level of those suffering from mental illness has increased for a few reasons. COVID-19-related shutdowns and staff absences due to sickness and quarantine essentially cut off access to community-based services, such as outpatient services, medication management services, regularly scheduled counseling sessions, and day programs. And high stress and isolation caused by the pandemic didn’t help individuals already experiencing challenges with their mental health.

Behavioral health professionals saw an increase in acuity levels for many people diagnosed with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and other conditions – people who would otherwise be able to maintain in the community with connected resources. In general, substance use and abuse rose, too. It all translates to a rise in acute crisis situations that require immediate stabilization.

Access to treatment and community services is much more difficult. With increased acuity comes increased instances of people presenting with a behavioral health crisis. The Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act (EMTALA) requires any facility identifying as a hospital to accommodate and serve these individuals until they can find an appropriate treatment setting. BH facilities continue to struggle with staffing, and many treatment centers are still operating at reduced capacity for infection control reasons, limiting their ability to accept patients from EDs and hospital systems. The result? Patients in crisis can’t immediately receive the most optimal treatment.

Care Coordination Issues That Complicate Crisis Stabilization

In addition to the broad challenges discussed above, factors inherent to the care management environment also interfere with crisis stabilization:

  • Communication gaps between care managers and providers slow the process of linking patients with appropriate crisis stabilization services.
  • Lack of visibility into all available resources can prevent care managers from leveraging all options that can help individuals live a safe, active life in the community. Especially today, with many services still so limited, it’s important for care managers to have a comprehensive grasp of everything out there that could help.
  • Lack of a centralized record means that care team members are in the dark regarding the information needed for admissions and to guide care and treatment decisions. BH-related ED visits, self-presentation to a BH center or hospital/ED, failure to show up for SUD or day services, failure to pick up prescriptions or to take medications as prescribed – these are all things that may signal an impending mental health crisis. When care team members know about them, they have a better chance of intervening with preventive services in time to avert acute crisis situations (e.g., self-harm).
  • Lack of insight into an individual’s circumstances. At any given moment, people may be experiencing stressors that can intensify a mental health episode. Without insight into these circumstances, staff could miss the opportunity to de-escalate a potential crisis.

How the Right Tech Platform Can Strengthen Crisis Stabilization Management

Reducing the impact of mental health crises on individuals, healthcare organizations, and the community depends on effective management of crisis stabilization. Here are six key ways that a care management platform can help BH organizations and providers deliver seamless, whole-person crisis treatment when it’s needed most.

  1. Streamline communication and provide transparency. A platform can facilitate much easier outreach between providers, BH staff, and care managers. It also puts pertinent information at users’ fingertips, eliminating the need to track down other care team members before taking action. With the ability to loop community-based services in on post-acute stabilization services, care managers can assist with or manage pre-discharge planning, including referrals and resources centered around crisis stabilization and management.

  2. Enable seamless connection to crisis stabilization services and resources. By integrating with resources in the community (e.g., counseling centers, 24-hour therapy services, day treatment services, psychiatric services, and even food assistance or financial assistance organizations that support social determinants of health), staff can more quickly link individuals and family members in crisis with vital services.

  3. Provide a 360° view of the member. Staff using the platform can identify all relevant present and historical information they need to speed admissions, make effective care choices, and keep individuals as safe, stable, and healthy as possible. For example, staff can be alerted regarding presentation to the ED, admission, or readmission for BH-related reasons.

  4. Automate tasks for clinicians and care managers. Too often, BH care team members rely on hand-written lists or their memories to complete tasks like checking in on individuals, following up with colleagues, and other responsibilities. But automation lets a platform take over task assignment and generation of reminders, better ensuring that critical tasks are completed on time and lifting some of the cognitive burden from staff.

  5. Identify and manage medications. Medication management is crucial to avoiding severe mental health episodes in the first place. And knowing the types and dosages of a patient’s medications is important to responding appropriately during crisis stabilization. A platform can give providers and care managers access to accurate medication information within a few clicks. Users can see pharmacy claims to assess fill history and address adherence issues, be alerted when medications haven’t been reconciled within an appropriate timeframe, or when an individual fails to show up for a medication administered by an in-office provider, for example.

  6. Enable Behavioral Health professionals to provide proactive and holistic care. A platform that centralizes information provides enhanced visibility for the entire care team. These insights help identify barriers to care and the need for early intervention to avoid escalation. It can also inform care choices and therapy to support whole-person care, helping staff develop and maintain trust and rapport with patients.

Selecting a Care Management Platform that Supports Crisis Stabilization

While it’s true that technology can enhance crisis stabilization efforts, finding the right platform is key to realizing the benefits covered here. In addition to improving processes and outcomes for members, a right-fit solution can enable a better experience for staff, who are able to spend more time providing care and less time on administrative tasks.

In contrast, a platform that doesn’t deliver on user experience and capabilities can actually increase complexity and staff frustration.

Here are a few features to look for if you’re considering a platform to improve your organization’s approach to crisis stabilization:

  • A user experience characterized by an intuitive interface, with minimal clicks and screens to access needed information
  • Seamless integration with community providers and resources
  • AI-driven automations that enable task generation, assignments, and alerts
  • 360° patient view capturing both historical and real-time information available to users in at-a-glance dashboards
  • Cloud-based model that provides higher lifetime value
  • Clinical pathways supporting national guidelines, core services, and best practices in delivering behavioral health care

Need more insight on finding a solution that supports whole-person care during crisis stabilization? Read our guide and discover the 11 questions you need to ask!

The Guide for Providers

The Guide for Payers