Webinar explores how CVS is helping patients navigate mental health services

The webinar featured Aetna Behavioral Health’s Ashley Karpinski, who discussed how CVS Health is responding to the growing need for mental health services amid the pandemic.
Sandra Levy
Senior Editor
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The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on the mental health of many people of all ages. In a Drug Store News webinar held Thursday  Ashley Karpinski, director of behavioral health strategy and innovation, Aetna Behavioral Health, and the key clinical leader responsible for developing CVS’ HealthHUB Behavioral Health program, outlined how CVS is addressing the need for mental health services amid the pandemic.

The full webinar, sponsored by LexisNexis, is available on-demand can be accessed here.

Karpinski said the pandemic has had an impact on mental health, challenging almost everything about the way that we live, including how we celebrated birthdays or the loss of a loved one, how we educate our youth, how we work, and how we relate with our elders.

“Everything about our lives shifted. Many of us feel isolated,” she said, adding “One of the benefits we’ve seen, is that people are talking about mental health more now.”

Karpinski said that according to the CDC, more than 40% of Americans are feeling stress in the past year, especially young adults and women.  In fact, she pointed out that two-thirds of young adults are experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression, and 45% of women say that their mental health is impacted by the pandemic. 

“The truth is everyone has been impacted in some way through this pandemic. We have fear, anxiety and isolation, which has afforded us the opportunity to talk about mental health issues that the pandemic has created. The issues are here and growing due to the pandemic,” she said.

Karpinski also noted that mental health is not one size fits all, and everyone has a different need. "Engaging in mental health services can be cumbersome. If you have a loved one who needs therapy or you weren’t feeling well, you ask, who should I call, my primary care provider, a psychiatrist, or a psychologist? What do my benefits cover? A lot of confusing things get in the way of getting care. Once you access care, sometimes there’s a long wait to get service,” she said.

To make mental health services more convenient and accessible,CVS HealthHub has hired licensed social workers in MinuteClinics in several markets. They provide mental health assessments, and offer in person or virtual therapy on an ongoing basis to anyone 18 and older who has a mild to moderate condition.

“We believe we can close gaps in care by making mental health convenient, affordable, accessible and start to break down some of those barriers that keep us from getting the care we need,” Karpinski said.  “We began operating HealtHub locations in 2019 with the goal to transform the consumer healthcare experience and provide convenient personalized and integrated services that could close gaps in care. Behavioral health offerings are just an expansion. We are trying to listen to what consumers want and need. We opened services in some select HealthHubs in Houston and different markets. We’re growing and testing and learning what can we do to really begin to impact mental health it drives a lot of our healthcare concerns.”

When it comes to paying for mental health services, CVS also is helping patients take the guesswork out of the process. Karpinski said that the providers are in network for most payers and insurers, and they also take private pay, cash pay and serve Medicaid and Medicare. "We're taking the guess work out of, do you or don’t you? but to get to 'yes.' A payer agnostic solution helps eliminate some of the guesswork, whetherit is  social determinants or mental health related. They are both integrated in addressing issues folks come to us with."

Karpinski said that mental health is taking the stage now because of the pandemic’s impact and people’s view of holistic well-being. "We know that there are many people who need mental health help. We keep striving to close those gaps in care. We know more is coming. People talking about the wave post pandemic. We’ve seen trends toward telemedicine. We’ll continue to provide and evaluate various options to meet those rising demands and need for care, whether shortage of providers, cost to care.  To try to play role in addressing those total needs," she said.

On the subject of collaboration between healthcare providers and pharmacists, Karpinski said, "If you think about CVS HealthHubs as an ecosystem of care collaboration, between all providers, it is really important. Pharmacists are one of the top trusted professionals in the industry. It's one place where people talk. We’re looking at where are those opportunities are to bridge conversations. A large percentage of patients are on medications and not getting engaged in therapy. That integration and collaboration is what HealthHubs are about." 

Finally, Karpinski addressed the future of telemedicine.  "It’s not going anywhere, especially in mental health, and especially with COVID, we’ve seen such an increase in adoption,” she said. “For mental health, the volume will stay. We deliver telemedicine today. Through our platform you can see our licensed therapist. We only see that getting more important.”