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Technology: powerful driver in the treatment of mental health issues | NPM Capital

January 7, 2020
Technology: powerful driver in the treatment of mental health issues | NPM Capital

While treating mental health issues may be the ultimate ‘people business’, the use of electronic tools has become common currency in the mental health field, says Martin de Heer, CEO of mental health care provider Mentaal Beter. As he explains, “data-based thinking is really in our DNA.”

When healthcare entrepreneur Martin de Heer and several of his colleagues decided to open their own practices back in 2004, they were certain about one thing: their desire to adopt an innovative approach to mental health care. They were focused on personalised care, a high level of practitioner-client interaction, and helping clients to regain their vitality and reclaim their lives. What they felt at least as important was an evidence-based treatment pathway, which involves conducting tests before, during and after the treatment. “I think we were one of the first providers in the Netherlands to adopt this approach,” De Heer says. “Data was already on our minds when we founded Mentaal Beter, even though we only used old-school paper questionnaires back then.”

Mentaal Beter has since been incorporated into the NL Mentalcare Group, along with Vitalmindz and Opdidakt: a network of mental health practices spread across approximately 110 locations throughout the Netherlands, with a total of more than 1,000 psychologists, psychiatrists and special education experts on staff. The organisation has also become one of the most innovative players where the use of technology in treatments is concerned. De Heer: “Most of our clients still physically travel to one of our sites to see a practitioner, but we also have our own e-mental health platform, which enables clients to work on their recovery at home. They even have the option to do the full treatment from the comfort of their homes, using a secure video connection at Mentaal Beter online. Although we have found that most clients still prefer face-to-face contact.”

Mentaal Beter boasts an all-digital and cloud-based back office, with a self-evident focus on data security and privacy. All practitioners store relevant data electronically. Using this data as input, the system generates fully automatic reports on areas such as caseload and treatment progress at the client level, along with management information for local authorities, health insurance providers and other stakeholders. “Our practitioners can log on in the morning, check the various dashboards and be instantly up to date,” De Heer says. “Our main priorities are learning, improving and intervening in time, not to create some Big Brother-type environment. In fact, our practitioners would never put up with it if we did.”

Horizontal supervision
According to De Heer, this strong focus on technology and data has another advantage: it results in above-average compliance levels within the company. “In the early years, it was standard practice for health insurance companies to analyse your healthcare expenses afterwards,” De Heer says. “This would often lead to massive insurance claims and reputational damage, for example because things weren’t properly registered or weren’t fully compliant with the protocol. Since we didn’t want to run that risk, we began investing from day one in a software tool that assesses all diagnosis/treatment combinations in advance against the criteria set by the health insurers themselves. We have become very skilled at electronic risk management – so skilled, in fact, that we will soon be eligible for what is known as ‘horizontal supervision.’ This means health insurance companies basically tell you: ‘We will no longer check your invoices, but only your system.’ It’s a real milestone, and it tells you that data-based thinking is really in our DNA.”

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