A Time of Firsts: Insights into Latest Medical and Behavioral Health Innovations for Whole Person Health
By Camis Milam, MD, Chief Medical Officer, Compass Health
Editor’s note: As the saying goes, there’s a first time for everything, and Compass Health’s first-ever chief medical officer, Camis Milam, MD knows how new medical and technological innovations are helping support integration and excellence in care throughout the region. Read on to learn more about Compass Health’s journey to pioneering whole person health with lasting impact.
Community behavioral health has changed greatly since President Kennedy signed the Community Mental Health Act into law in October, 1963. Compass Health has contributed to that evolution, including helping to pioneer a more holistic approach to behavioral health treatment – one that few could even envision eight decades ago – known as whole person health.
The whole person health model recognizes that people with serious mental illnesses typically die 15 to 25 years sooner than their peers, often from medical illnesses such as diabetes and cardiac disease. It focuses on integrated treatment plans that address the full spectrum of an individual’s needs including their health and well-being goals, neurological and cognitive disorders, transportation and communication issues, as well as economic factors. Some agencies across the country have also added substance use disorder treatment to their array of services, while still others have ventured into providing primary care services within the behavioral health space.
As we expand services at Compass Health, we continue to focus on providing integrated psychiatric, counseling and psychosocial services through technology and medical innovations that help us achieve our mission of whole person health. Even before the pandemic, we were leveraging technology to provide our clients with the best evidence-based treatment and information to support collaborations with our primary care partners in the five counties we serve.
The Impact of an Electronic Health Record System
Recent examples include our agency-wide electronic health record system, which we adopted two years ago. We also offer electronic prescription refills direct to most pharmacies, reducing error and lost prescriptions while providing greater efficiencies in processing.
Additionally, we recently opened a client portal in our records system so clients with internet access can fill out questionnaires and forms. Our Certified Medical Assistants (CMAs), in conjunction with front office staff, act as an important client-facing interface, and help resolve questions and concerns using electronic messaging. We can even exchange electronic communications with primary and specialty providers to improve the coordination of care. The data from these records gives us insight into client outcomes and the health of our population, serving as an important quality measure and providing insight into potential areas of improvement.
Technology that Promotes Whole Person Health
Technology partners have also helped us move toward more holistic care. Through our partnership with Integrated Telehealth Solutions, we’ve launched the Compass Health Bridge mobile telehealth system, offering a virtual office where our clients can access treatment securely from the safety of their own homes.
By seeing an individual in their home environment, we’re able to save clients time and limit exposure to others amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Bridge mobile devices also give us the ability to have a “window” into a client’s living environment, which can provide important clues to ensure the best care. Since the beginning of the Washington Stay at Home order in early March, we have increased the number of billable telehealth services provided monthly – expanding from 1,200 in March 2020 to nearly 6,000 in May 2020. To help address challenges with internet service in some of the more rural areas we serve, we continue to monitor and provide solutions to ensure access to care.
Medical Innovations Ensure Effective Treatment
Of course, other innovations we’ve adopted fall on the clinical side of our services. A little more than a year ago, Compass Health implemented therapeutic drug monitoring though partnership with Aegis Labs. Recognizing that it can be difficult to remember to take medications one or more times per day, a simple urine sample or cheek swab allows us to ascertain whether an individual is taking enough oral medications for effective treatment.
The lab also monitors the client for other medications and substances that might affect or interact with our medications. These results allow us to open conversations with our clients regarding their use of medications and substances and collaboratively decide on the best possible regimens. Recently, Aegis has added COVID-19 testing with 48-hour turn around, and we have implemented a regular testing regimen in our residential living programs with plans to expand use.
Our latest technological partner is Athelas. Athelas created a device that monitors white blood cell counts for clients with schizophrenia who take the medication clozapine. Previously, these individuals had to go to a lab to have blood drawn on a weekly or monthly basis as they progressed in treatment. With this new device, our CMAs perform a simple finger prick (very similar to glucose monitoring in diabetes) and receive a result within five minutes that allows the client to pick up their next prescription of this life-saving medication.
These are just a few of the latest technology and medical solutions that Compass Health has adopted over the past few years. We continue to explore and adopt pertinent “high touch” techniques to further the very best evidence-based care and support whole person health for all those we serve across Northwest Washington.