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Targeted Care Pilot Aims to Match Demand for Mental Health Care

Image of Targeted Care Pilot Aims to Match Demand for Mental Health Care. The DHA Targeted Care Pilot deployed to 10 sites in April 2023. The pilot, lasting six months, aims to alleviate the strained mental health system by matching service members to the care they need—wherever they are on a spectrum of mental health issues. Following the pilot, DHA will review results for the purpose of further refinement, continuation, and potential expansion.

The Defense Health Agency deployed a pilot program to connect service members with behavioral health resources they need for support.

The DHA Targeted Care Pilot deployed to 10 sites in April 2023. The pilot, lasting six months, aims to alleviate the strained mental health system by matching service members to the care they need—wherever they are on a spectrum of mental health issues. Following the pilot, DHA will review results for the purpose of further refinement, continuation, and potential expansion.

“For years, service members have been told to seek services from a behavioral health provider if they experienced any type of distress, but the use of specialty behavioral health care services for all distress can result in both long wait times for an initial assessment and a prolonged time in treatment because of the demand,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Aaron Tritch, chief of the U.S. Air Force Targeted Care initiative. “Both clinical and non-clinical concerns are being accepted indiscriminately into our resource- constrained mental health clinics.”

The program intends to connect service members with non-clinical and clinical resources, depending on their mental health experience.

“We’ve focused on specialty behavioral health as the only modality that can meet this demand,” said U.S. Public Health Services Captain Meghan Corso, chief of behavioral health clinical operations at DHA. “Targeted care is a unified/standardized workflow that connects an individual to the counseling/helping resource which best addresses their presenting concern.”

Targeted care improves the integration and synchronization of all mental health counseling or prevention resources available to address a service member’s needs quickly.

“Behavioral health concerns include normal reactions to challenging life circumstances that we expect to get better, either on their own or with a little support from friends, family, or even a non-medical counselor like a chaplain or military and family life counselor,” said Tritch.

At the hospital or clinic level, this means directing patients to the right resources.

“Clinics will standardize a process to ensure we quickly assess anyone walking in or calling in to inquire if specialty mental health care is right for them,” said Tritch. “When best for the active duty service member, this may mean recommending a counseling resource outside of the behavioral health clinic. We call this recommendation ‘vectoring.’ The behavioral health team will explain the recommended vector and assist in connecting to the resource.”

If specialty behavioral health care is needed, the active duty service member will be vectored into the clinic for a complete assessment.

“In many cases, this means a recommendation to engage in an evidence-based group therapy. Groups offer many benefits beyond what can be provided through other forms of therapy,” said Tritch.

This efficient care model helps ensure access to services and opens availability for those in need of more intensive, one-on-one support.

“Targeted care widens the aperture when it comes to options to address an individual’s need and improves access to care,” said Corso. “Individuals won’t have to wait as long to receive care since they’re connected with the appropriate resource in a timely manner. It focuses on short-term care, which enhances resilience and operational readiness.”

The targeted care model uses a team-based approach to deliver technician-level care to the patient.

“Patients will not be turned away, and will be given options to include specialty behavioral health if that individual chooses,” said Corso.

The U.S. Army installations involved in the Targeted Care Pilot include:

The U.S. Navy sites that are participating include:

Evidence-based Group Therapy Is Popular and Effective

  • Within the U.S. Air Force pilot, the use of group therapy noticeably increased. The number of patients increased 54 percent and the number of appointments increased 80 percent.
  • Group therapy was readily accepted as a recommendation for care with potential to reduce time in care by months.
  • Group therapy affords greater access and more streamlined care. Patients will generally complete group therapy sessions as weekly services compared to individual care, where follow-up appointments may take longer. This greater frequency of sessions helps avoid an increase of patient symptoms.
  • Research demonstrates group therapy works as well as individual therapy and frequently has a destigmatizing/normalizing effect. Patients frequently see their own experiences reflected by others in the group.
  • Group therapy also offers collaborative problem solving, practice in a social setting, and chances to build empathy toward others in the group. These skills generalize beyond the treatment setting.

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