May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Innovation Health Chief Medical Officer Sunil Budhrani urges Virginians to start a conversation about mental health. Budhrani moderated the Digital Health panel at NVTC’s Health Care Informatics & Analytics Conference on May 5.


Even for a medical expert, mental health can be a difficult topic to talk about.

I know the terminology, proper treatment plans and resources. But as a society (even among health providers), we often don’t know how to talk to those in need of mental health support – sometimes including ourselves. It’s uncomfortable. It’s emotional. It’s personal. So we don’t share. Don’t ask. Don’t act. And suicide rates across our nation skyrocket.

We need to talk about mental health.

When I joined Innovation Health as Chief Medical Officer last month, I sat down with my team and we made a collective decision. We decided to speak from our own personal experiences with mental health, however imperfectly. Because talking about mental health is the best way to truly help remove the stigma associated with mental health conditions.

Working as an ER doctor, I frequently saw patients whose anxiety and depression had gone unmanaged and ultimately led them to attempt suicide. Some I was able to help. For others there was nothing I could do. I realized that many times these patients weren’t getting the help they needed because they feared being labeled or misunderstood. Time and again, I saw that the cost of not treating these symptoms could be fatal.

Now, after so many years, so many news reports, and seeing so many of my colleagues and friends struggle, it is clear to me that we must confront the topic of mental health head-on if we are truly going to make a difference.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and I hope it will be a catalyst for this critical conversation, which impacts so many Americans.

The proof is in the numbers: according to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly one in four adults and one in five children in the U.S.  has a diagnosable mental health condition. In Virginia, more than 230,000 adults – roughly 3.8 percent of the population – have experienced a serious mental illness. These facts tell me one thing; we are not alone. We all know someone, work with someone, or love someone who struggles with mental illness. We may struggle with it ourselves. The fact is that anxiety, depression and substance abuse touch every community. The time to accept this is now. The time to speak up and reach out is now.

Many people don’t get the services they need because they don’t know where to start. If you or someone you know is struggling, you can start the healing process by following these three steps:

  1. Talk to a primary care physician about your mental health. They can help connect you with the right mental health support. If you do not have a PCP, I highly recommend you select one for your general health care needs.
  2. Educate yourself. Visit the Innovation Health website to take a depression or anxiety assessment or call 703-289-7560 to schedule an in-person assessment with a trained counselor.
  3. Be proactive about mental well-being. If you know someone who may be experiencing symptoms related to a mental health condition, encourage them to get the help they need.

It is never easy or comfortable to approach situations like this, but as a community we can’t let our fear or doubts stop us from helping others or ourselves dealing with mental illness. Talk about metal health with your family, friends and colleagues not just this month, but all year.

Together we can work to build a healthier world. But first, we have to start the conversation.

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As companies try to keep employees healthy and lower the overall cost of care, it is important that employers bring back the tradition of the primary care physician (PCP). Whether you are the HR director in charge of selecting health plans for your company or the CEO who is paying them, Amy Turner, executive director and COO of Innovation Health, provides the top four reasons you should be advocating for your employees to engage with a PCP. 


We all remember the days of the HMO plan – limited care options that left many employees looking for more choice and access to care for themselves and their families. To help meet this employee request many HR directors began looking toward PPO plans, which offered larger networks of doctors and specialists, but at a higher cost than the HMO plans. Today, employees want the same options, but with the increase in high-deductible health plans, many of them are also taking a closer look at cost.

As someone who has been in the health industry for more than a decade, I have seen a lot of changes take place, but one that strikes me as imperative to address is the lack of people who have, and engage with, a primary care physician (PCP). Plan options and policy changes aside, in the past people relied on family doctors for everything. Doctors intimately knew a family’s history, often treating several generations of family members. As we try to keep our employees healthy and lower the overall cost of care, it is important that we bring this tradition back with the PCP.

Whether you are the HR director in charge of selecting health plans for your company or the CEO who is paying them, here are the top four reasons you should be advocating for your employees to engage with a PCP!

They are focused on preventive care

A PCP can be your employee’s main health care provider for their most common medical problems. But they also look out for your employee’s overall health, recommend screenings, make referrals and encourage healthy habits.

They help maintain good health

A PCP provides employees with continual care. And that’s what good health maintenance over a lifetime requires. PCPs can treat the whole person, taking into account both your employee’s history and existing conditions.

They serve as an important point of contact and resource

PCPs are personal doctors who can coordinate care. That takes stress off your employees as their doctors are ready to make sure their best interests are met. Furthermore, they are often the first people  your employees can contact when they have a question or a problem. He or she can provide answers and care, or recommend a specialist when needed.

They help keep costly ER visits down

Because they will be your employees’ first line of defense, PCPs can answer questions, call in a prescription or even suggest the action your employees should take.  This will help them to avoid costly ER visits as they are able to manage any health issues before they escalate.

Once your employees select a PCP, make sure they are aware that under the Affordable Care Act they’re entitled to one, free yearly checkup. You read that correctly – every single employee you have can receive one free check-up a year.  This is something all of them should take advantage of. So, if you aren’t doing it already, please express to your employees the importance of building a PCP relationship and getting a yearly checkup. Not only will their health likely improve, but it could save your company and themselves valuable dollars.

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This week on NVTC’s blog, Innovation Health CEO Dave Notari shares how health IT has made serious progress, closing communication and care gaps.


The healthcare industry hasn’t traditionally been known as an early adopter when it comes to implementing the latest technology – as folks in the heart of the Northern Virginia technology community know all too well. But over the past few years we’ve made some serious progress.

Dave Notari

Dave Notari

Since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was signed into law there’s been a dramatic national up-tick in the use of personal health technology (think Fitbit!), as well as technology designed to help consumers navigate the healthcare system and make better choices on behalf of their families.

When technology is implemented within a progressive and proactive health care management model, we start to close communication and care gaps, reduce medical errors and encourage healthy habits. Northern Virginia is a hub of tech innovation, and technology is poised to improve the health care experience for residents in three very important ways over the next few years.

Improving Health Literacy

In early 2015 a Kaiser Family Foundation survey [1] found that there were 11 million newly insured adults as of December 2014. For some, it may have been their first experience with enrolling for health coverage and having to learn a wide array of health and health benefits terms. Health care language can be difficult to understand, and with high deductible health plans (HDHP)s  on the rise, understanding coverage needs and what is available in-network is more vital than ever before. With the right consumer tools and simpler language, health providers and businesses can make health information clearer to consumers, aid decision-making, and ensure that they are informed and able to choose the plan that works best for them and their family.

Many of us expect that buying and selecting our health plan should be as easy as buying a pair of shoes—as insurers begin to implement this type of technology we can expect that to become more of a reality.

Improving the Quality of Care

When it comes to improving the overall quality of Northern Virginia healthcare, technology provides opportunities for better coordination and collaboration among key stakeholders.  Our health care system today is characterized by fragmentation, inefficiency and waste. In addition, it’s not as convenient or connected as it could be. Deploying technology to connect hospitals, physicians and providers would transform the way healthcare is currently delivered and provide numerous benefits to NOVA consumers.

Take, for example, someone who needs to see a specialist. Before electronic health records (EHRs) and technology that allows doctors to electronically share patient health information were available a Primary Care Physician (PCP) would have to fax the patient’s chart to a specialist, the patient or doctor would have to call to ensure the information arrived, and if it did not the patient would have to rely on her memory to recount for the doctor her entire medical history. Today, doctors using EHRs and health information exchange technology have the ability to seamlessly coordinate their patients’ care and share critical patient data, which lessens the hassle factor for patients. Additionally, certain technologies can even allow patients to review their own secure personal health records, pinpoint in-network doctors and facilities, get cost-saving pop-up alerts and use digital ID cards for all of their check-ups and appointments.

Beyond making patient health records more accessible, technology can also help identify patients who may be at risk of certain conditions or those with potential gaps in care so doctors can act to prevent complications.

Lowering Costs

Technology has the ability to help consumers understand the cost of services before they are actually accessed—something I personally found useful a few months ago when my son was in need of a CT scan. My wife was referred to a doctor, and like most moms was going off of the doctor’s recommendation without any insight into places she could have the CT performed or what the cost would be at different facilities. This is pretty common. Using a health care payment estimator tool I was able to find all of the different care sites and costs in a five-mile radius of our home.  The result? My son received a CT scan for $250 rather than the doctor’s recommended site which was $600. Since I have a HDHP, I saved an additional outlay of $350—all thanks to technology!

It is safe to assume that technology is going to transform the healthcare space. By continuing to look for and implement new technologies and solutions we have the ability to improve patient and employer education, improve health outcomes, and save money on health costs.

[1] Rachel Garfield, Katherine Young, Adults who Remained Uninsured at the End of 2014, (The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 2015), Issue Brief

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