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Engaging with digital mental health improves outcomes for chronic conditions

At a recent session with the Society for Behavioral Medicine, Teladoc Health presented new research that further strengthens the connections between mental health and chronic conditions.

Research has shown that mental health and chronic conditions are intricately related. Recently, the Society for Behavioral Medicine invited Teladoc Health to present original research at its 45th Annual Meeting and Scientific Session around the real-world impact of just-in-time access to mental health support for individuals who have difficulty managing their chronic conditions, such as diabetes or hypertension.

Here, Eldin Dzubur, PhD, Researcher, shares insights from this study and its implications for the future.

Research hypothesis

Our previous chronic condition research at Teladoc Health used unique data sources to show how individuals who were enrolled in multiple chronic condition management programs greatly improved their physical health versus those individuals who were only enrolled in one chronic condition program. Building on this research, we leveraged comprehensive data gathered over a two-year period to see how the addition of mental health support affected an individual’s efforts to manage their chronic condition such as diabetes, hypertension, or obesity. Our hypothesis was that individuals who are enrolled in chronic condition programs will see improved outcomes—improved blood glucose, improved blood pressure and weight loss—faster when they engage in mental health programs compared to people who did not access mental health programs.”

Research findings

We found a couple of different interesting results. Most significant is that mental health was the biggest driver of change in blood glucose, blood pressure and weight for those who were struggling to manage their conditions.

Over the 24-month period, members who engaged with mental health support got healthier faster and achieved greater results than those who did not engage—such as 80%+ greater improvement in blood glucose, 30%+ greater improvement in blood pressure and 10%+ greater weight loss.

We also observed that the longer a member was enrolled and active in the mental health program, the greater their improvement was. We learned that when members were engaging with their mental health program during a moment of need, like trying to stay on track after a disappointing weigh-in or dealing with their emotions from a recent clinical diagnosis, they had greater improvements in their physical health and chronic conditions. Simply put, engaging in mental health over a longer period of time was more beneficial to managing chronic conditions compared to not engaging in mental health programs.

This relationship was further supported by prior research, which showed a bidirectional relationship between physical and mental health. That is, individuals who have poor control of their chronic conditions tend to have poorer mental health, and when their mental health improves, so does their chronic condition.”

Key takeaways for benefit providers

“This study adds to the growing catalog of research connecting mental and physical health. What we are seeing in our research is not only are there benefits to treating body and mind, but even more benefits are realized when that care is fully integrated with mental health services that are reaching individuals in the times when they need it the most and are more likely to engage in their care. There is real benefit connecting chronic condition care with mental healthcare in one seamless experience.”

What’s next?

“At Teladoc Health, we leverage studies such as this one to enhance our services so our members can achieve their health goals. These findings will inform the development of new engagement models that help not only identify but predict when an individual needs mental health services based on their diabetes, hypertension and weight loss outcomes. For example, if a member is having trouble managing their chronic condition, we'll be able to deliver just-in-time adaptive interventions to stabilize and improve clinical outcomes on a case-by-case, moment-by-moment basis. This will translate to long-term improvements for individuals over time. We’ve known that these interventions are useful, but being able to put them into a real-world environment and in a setting that can be of help to millions of individuals is what excites me the most about this research.”

Integrated chronic care and mental health solutions such as those offered by Teladoc Health are focused on delivering strong and measurable outcomes for our clients and members. To learn more, visit this page.

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