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Healthy Metric Releases Mental Health Disparities Report 

Healthy Metric, a statewide partnership dedicated to advancing health equity in Wisconsin, has released a report highlighting mental health disparities in the state.  

The report, titled “Disparities in Mental Health Care and Outcomes: A Healthy Metric 2023 Report for Wisconsin,” identifies gaps in mental health screening, diagnoses, and telehealth utilization across various demographics, including race and ethnicity, rural and urban geography, insurance type, and age. The data used in the report were sourced from health system data submitted to the Wisconsin Collaborative for Healthcare Quality (WCHQ) in 2021 and claims data from the Wisconsin Health Information Organization (WHIO) spanning 2019 to 2021. 

One of the key findings of the report is a substantial increase of over 63,000 people seeking treatment for mild to moderate depression and/or anxiety between 2019 and 2021. Notably, the highest percentage of visits during this period was recorded among individuals residing in urban advantaged and urban (defined as neither advantaged nor underserved) areas, while those in rural underserved and urban underserved areas had the lowest rates.  

Furthermore, the report indicates that depression screening rates reveal a potential underestimation of actual depression prevalence, particularly among rural and urban underserved populations, as not all patients receiving primary care services were screened for depression. 

The report also reveals a 40% increase in telehealth visits from 2019 to 2021, primarily driven by urban advantaged areas. However, despite the rise in telehealth utilization, it is evident that it has not effectively bridged the gaps as anticipated, especially among rural populations. 

Gabrielle Rude, PhD, president/CEO of the Wisconsin Collaborative for Healthcare Quality (WCHQ), expressed the organization’s commitment to addressing healthcare disparities in Wisconsin, stating, “WCHQ is honored to be part of Healthy Metric as we work collaboratively to bring attention to healthcare disparities in Wisconsin. This report highlights two important factors—the significant increase in Wisconsinites seeking mental health care, underscoring the magnitude of the need for this care in the face of clinician shortages, and the persistent underservice of rural areas, as observed in previous reports comparing healthcare in urban and rural regions. Our challenge remains finding ways to bridge these gaps.” 

Dana Richardson, CEO of the Wisconsin Health Information Organization (WHIO), emphasized the significance of the report’s findings in understanding the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health, stating, “We now know that there was a 36% increase in mental health visits in the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the populations with the largest care gaps. The information in this report will help policymakers and others to direct resources where they are needed most to support the mental health of Wisconsinites overall and to reduce disparities in care.” 

The Healthy Metric partnership is actively collaborating with health systems across the state to identify best practices and initiate collaborative actions to reduce the disparities identified in the report. By leveraging the report’s information, stakeholders aim to facilitate a collective effort in addressing health disparities and improving mental health care outcomes in Wisconsin.  

Maureen Smith, MD, PhD, MPH, professor of Population Health Sciences at UW-Madison, emphasized the coordinated action needed to address gaps in mental health care and outcomes, stating, “There is an opportunity for stakeholders across the state to take collective action to address disparities in mental health care and outcomes. We have seen a resolute commitment from health systems and health plans throughout Wisconsin in addressing health disparities, exemplified by their transparency in making critical information publicly accessible.” Smith adds, “Now, armed with the invaluable insights provided by this report, we have a powerful opportunity to foster collaborative efforts among health systems, health plans, community partners, government agencies, and other mental health stakeholders drive substantial advancements in mental health care outcomes across Wisconsin.” 

Healthy Metric’s groundbreaking work is made possible through a three-year, $3 million grant awarded jointly in 2021 by Medical College of Wisconsin’s Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin Endowment (AHW) and The University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health’s Wisconsin Partnership Program (WPP). This collaboration brings together the two medical schools, the Wisconsin Collaborative for Healthcare Quality (WCHQ), the Wisconsin Health Information Organization (WHIO), and the Marshfield Clinic Research Institute (MCRI), the largest private medical research institute in Wisconsin. 

With health inequities on the rise, it is imperative to identify the areas where disparities exist in order to develop targeted interventions to eliminate them. Healthy Metric, with its diverse coalition of medical schools, healthcare organizations, and research institutes, is at the forefront of this effort, striving to create a healthier and more equitable future for all Wisconsinites.  

“We have always known that mental health disparities exist, but the findings of this report shed light on the urgent need for targeted interventions and resources to address these disparities effectively,” says Joan Neuner, MD, MPH, an internal medicine specialist and Georgia Carroll Professor of Women’s Health, Department of Medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin. “As a physician on the front lines, I witness firsthand the impact of mental health disparities on individuals and communities. This report serves as a call to action for policymakers, healthcare providers, and stakeholders to come together and prioritize mental health equity. By implementing evidence-based strategies and allocating resources where they are most needed, we can make significant strides in improving mental health outcomes for all individuals in Wisconsin. It is essential that we work collaboratively to create a healthcare system that leaves no one behind and ensures equitable access to mental health care.” 

To access the full report, please visit: 

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