Did you feel it? The seismic shift that occurred in field of mental health just a little over a month ago? No? Nothing? Well, in truth, it wasn’t so much a rip in the space-time continuum as a run. That “run,” however, promises to forever alter the fabric of clinical practice–in particular how clinicians earn and maintain a certain standard of living.
For decades, licensing statutes have protected behavioral health professionals from competing with providers living outside of their state and local jurisdiction. In order to bill or receive reimbursement, mental health professionals needed to be licensed in the state in which treatment services were offered. Over the years, the various professional organizations have worked to make it easier for professionals to become licensed when they move from one state to the another. Still, it ain’t easy and, some practitioners and professional groups would argue, for good reason. Such laws, to some extent, insure that fees charged for services are commensurate with the cost of living in the place where therapists live and work. The cost of therapy in Manhattan varies considerably, for example, depending on whether one is talking about the city located in state of New York or Kansas.
As far as outcomes are concerned, however, there is no evidence that people who pay more necessarily get better results. Indeed, as reviewed here on this blog, available evidence indicates little or no difference in outcome between highly trained (and expensive) clinicians and minimally trained (and less expensive) para-professionals and students. If the traditional geographic (licensing) barriers were reduced or eliminated, consumers would with few exceptions gravitate to the best value for their money. In the 1980’s and 90’s, for example, comsumers deserted small, Main Street retailers when big box stores opened on the outskirts of town offering the same merchandise at a lower price. Now, big box retailers are closing en masse as consumers shift their purchases to less expensive, web based outlets.
And that’s precisely the shift that began a little over a month ago in the field of mental health. The U.S. Military eliminated the requirement that civilian providers be licensed in the same jurisdiction or state in which treatment is offered. The new law allows care to be provided wherever the receipient of services lives and regardless of where the provider is licensed. Public announcements argued that the change was needed to make services available to service members and veterans living in isolated or rural areas where few providers may be available. Whatever the reason, the implications are profound: in the future, clinicians, like Main Street retailers, will be competing with geographically distant providers.
Just one week prior to the announcement by the U.S. Military, I posted a blogpost highlighting a recent New York Times column by author and trend watcher, Thomas Friedman. In it, I argued that “Globalization and advances in information technology were…challenging the status quo…access. At one time, being average enabled one to live an average life, live in an average neighborhood and, most importantly, earn an average living. Not so anymore. Average is now plentiful, easily accessible, and cheap. What technology can’t do in either an average or better way, a younger, less-trained but equally effective provider can do for less. A variety of computer programs and web-based systems provide both psychological advice and treatment.”
Truth is, the change is likely to be a boon to consumers of mental health services: easier access to services at a better price. What can clinicians do? First, begin measuring outcome. Without evidence of their effectiveness, individual providers will lose out to the least expensive provider. No matter how much people complain about “big box and internet retailers,” most use them. The savings are too great to ignore.
What else can clinicians do? The advice of Friedman, which I quoted in my recent blogpost, applies, “everyone needs to find their extra–their unique value contribution that makes them stand out in whatever is their field.” Measuring outcome and finding that “something special” is what the International Center for Clinical Excellence is all about. If you are not a member, please join the thousands of other professionals online today. After that, why not spend time with peers and cutting edge instructors at the upcoming “advanced intensive” or “training of trainers” workshops this summer.