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A Vision for World Mental Health Day

David Wennberg, MD, MPHQuartet CEO

Blog | Oct 10, 2019


It’s surprising to me that my career has taken me to mental health, though it’s exactly where I know I need to and should be. Healthcare is practically part of my DNA — my father, Dr. John Wennberg, is the founder of the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, and my mother, Dr. Emma Ottolenghi, is a pioneer in women’s reproductive health in Vermont. I was trained as a primary care physician myself, and I’ve worked as a data scientist in health services research and then at Health Dialog focused on making shared decision making central to improving patients’ health, and then leading an accountable care collaboration. Thinking back, the one focus we didn’t have was mental health care.

I’ve seen firsthand just how hard it is for people to get the mental health care they need. Just a few years ago, my daughter experienced withdrawal symptoms from the medication she was taking, and she tried desperately to get in touch with her psychiatrist for days. Fortunately I was able to get a quick response when I reached out to the psychiatrist as “Dr. David Wennberg,” but you shouldn’t have to be a doctor, or have a doctor for a parent, to get the best care. 

So when I got an opportunity to work at Quartet, I knew I had to take it. I live in Maine and work in New York, and while I miss my wife and dogs when I say goodbye on Monday mornings (even though I have gotten to know the flight crew on Delta pretty well), I know just how critical this work is. 

It can be incredibly difficult for people to get mental health care — and as the mind and body are totally connected, this difficulty can have a profound impact on physical health as well. For example, many people who experience chest pains think they may be having a heart attack, when really they’re experiencing a panic attack. In the ER, the physicians are focused on making sure the patient doesn’t die and so focus on their heart. However, these patients rarely get treated for their mental health condition, and are sent on their way without getting to the bottom of why they’re there. This can lead to months or years of unwarranted symptoms. But if we had more understanding of how mental health conditions manifest, we could help people get the right care faster and help them lead happier, healthier lives.

Mental health is personal to so many of us, for good reason: nearly one in four people in America experience a mental health condition. That’s many of us or our loved ones. Unfortunately, more than half of people don’t get the treatment or support they need. Many also experience poor health, chronic illnesses, lower quality of life, and shorter life expectancy as a result of their inability to get care. There are still so many people who aren’t being treated who have a condition that’s never been recognized. It’s time to change that.

The good news is that technology can make it easier for people to access the right mental health care. This is what we’re doing at Quartet. We are radically changing the delivery of mental health care. We work every day to make it easier for people with mental health conditions to get the care and support they need. Quartet is helping to reduce barriers to care by connecting patients with the right mental health provider who meets their needs and takes their insurance, in the right setting at the right time. 

Quartet’s platform also allows all providers to connect about their patients’ health, and work together to get them the care and support they need. By connecting primary and mental health care, as Quartet does, patients can get the best care and see improvements in their health and wellbeing. It can also mean people spend less time in the ER with mental health symptoms, and have lower healthcare costs.

Today is World Mental Health Day, a day for education, awareness, and advocacy around mental health. This is critical. The state of mental health both in the U.S. and around the world is in crisis, and far too many people aren’t getting the care they need. We can and must do better.

That’s why I love having the honor of leading our amazing team at Quartet. I’m grateful to work with so many talented and hardworking people who are passionate about helping people with mental health conditions all around the country. We’ve learned so much from the people we help connect to care about what they want and need that we can now quickly match them with high-quality care and resources that best meets their needs, allowing them to get treatment and support much earlier. We’re in seven markets in the U.S., and are working quickly to expand our footprint so that we can help more people.

I’ve never worked as hard or been as excited about what we’ve accomplished, and yet there’s still so much to do to help more people get the care they need. 

On World Mental Health Day, I’m glad that there’s a day when so many leaders and organizations are focused on reducing stigma and finding solutions for better mental health care. It’s going to require all of our efforts to make real change happen. I look forward to a time when people think about mental health everyday, and have ubiquitous access to the best care for themselves and their loved ones. 

 

That’s when we’ll know we’ve truly accomplished our mission.

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