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Scott Mace, February 1, 2018

Behavioral Health App

Behavioral Health

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) leveraged technology to implement an alternative care pathway for behavioral health conditions, centered around primary care.

In creating the pathway, UPMC introduced a behavioral health app into the primary care physician's options for subsequent "prescription."

Because UPMC is both a payer and provider, the imperative for this initiative grew out of a desire to control costs and improve patient outcomes, rather than merely grow traditional fee-for-service practices.

The mobile-first, behavioral health app, known as Lantern, uses evidence-based cognitive behavioral therapy, and was developed by Lantern, a 2012 Silicon Valley startup, originally funded by a $4 million NIH grant and initially offered to consumers through mobile device app stores.

In an initial six-month trial with 200 patients, UPMC saw a significant reduction in patient anxiety and improvement in quality of life, versus results through traditional primary care approaches.

Transforming the app into something that primary care physicians could prescribe involved close coordination between the startup and UPMC's entrepreneurial arm, UPMC Enterprises, starting in early 2016.

At that time, UPMC Enterprises also took a $17 million investment stake in the company Lantern.

"[The app] can be an extension of care for existing behavioral therapists, so they can see more patients, or it can be used as an adjunct to treatment."

—Eva Szigethy, MD, PhD, psychiatrist, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center

The Lantern app assigns each user a health coach. Although the coaches are not licensed psychotherapists, they undergo rigorous training and supervision, says Eva Szigethy, MD, PhD, a UPMC psychiatrist.

These coaches are the first line in monitoring risk assessments, and they communicate with patients from the outset via text messaging. "They usually respond to patients within 24 hours, and they're really helping to motivate patients to keep using the app and problem-solve with patients who aren't using the app," she says.

Scott Mace

Scott Mace is a contributing writer for HealthLeaders Media.

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