Looking to Improve Access to Behavioral Health Care? Consider Your EAP 

Aug 22 2019

Is your company’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) more of a “check the box” benefit than a true partner in addressing workforce behavioral health issues?  In today’s challenging environment, you may need to ask more of your EAP.  A recent Mercer survey on workforce behavioral health found that more than half of respondents are concerned about the level of job-related stress and depression/anxiety in the workforce, and about a fourth are concerned about alcohol and opioid use disorders. At the same time, almost two-thirds of survey respondents say that adequate access to outpatient behavioral health care is lacking in some or all of their locations.  If these are issues for your organization, it may be time to consider whether your EAP could become a better partner in the effort to address gaps in behavioral health services.

Nearly all employers already provide EAP services to employees, frequently as a stand-alone program offered through an EAP vendor.  EAPs routinely provide face-to-face counseling (typically 3- 8 sessions); debriefing for critical incidents at the worksite; and work-life support services (e.g.,  dependent care, financial, legal). In general utilization of most services is very low, in the single digits and often below 5%.  Some EAPs have extended their reach by offering video-based counseling (24% of survey respondents), text-based coaching (13%), or text-based counseling (8%).  The largest organizations are the most likely to offer these expanded services (33% of those with 20,000 or more employees say that the EAP provides video-counseling).  Similarly, large organizations are more likely to make use of their EAPs management/ supervisor training on handling behavioral health issues in the workplace (71% with 5,000 or more employees).

<p>There are new EAP vendors offering a service model with sessions beyond 8 visits, new panels of providers that have either not been available or previously participated in networks, and virtual-online access to their services.  Many of these vendors are using evidence-based practice measures, augmented intelligence, and big data to improve the quality of their services, engagement, and outcomes. Many vendors are also offering self-guided applications for stress management and resiliency. But making better use of your employee assistance program will also rely on your vendor’s communications and anti-stigma efforts; manager and supervisor training and consultation in making program referrals; your policies regarding absence and return to work; and your overall culture regarding emotional well-being at the workplace. </p> <p>Your current vendor may be adding some of these newer approaches.  You may be able gather information from current benefit initiatives about your employees’ preferences in accessing care and other issues that can affect utilization, such as financial stress or co-morbid condition management. Whether you choose to enhance your current EAP or change it for another, a comprehensive approach will yield the best results.

To learn more, watch the replay to Mercer’s recent webinar on behavioral healthcare here


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