Fort Health brings virtual collaborative pediatric mental health care to 450+ primary care providers

Virtual pediatric behavioral healthcare company Fort Health will soon integrate with more than 450 primary care providers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Fort partnered with Advocare, a 750-provider group practice based in New Jersey, to address the challenges associated with a severe shortage of practicing child and adolescent psychiatrists. The company developed a collaborative care model through which Fort’s clinicians work together with the child’s pediatrician as part of a care team.

“[Collaborative care] it’s not only more clinically effective in terms of remission rates, especially for depression and anxiety, but it’s also more cost-effective in terms of overall medical costs, which is why payers like it,” said Natalie Schneider, CEO of Fort Health, for Behavioral Health. Business. “Plus, you can really grow your patient panel.”

New York-based Fort Health offers brief talk therapy interventions, psychiatric evaluations and parenting coaching. Its services are tailored for people ages 4 to 24 with mild to moderate behavioral conditions. For specialty behavioral health care, Fort refers to other behavioral health organizations, including InStride, Equip and Cortica.

The company secured $9 million in funding in March 2023, of which Blue Venture Fund contributed approximately $4.5 million, bringing the company’s total raised to $10.5 million.

Fort will be integrated into Advocare’s physician electronic health record (EHR), allowing pediatricians to electronically connect patients to a Fort care team consisting of a consulting clinician and behavioral health care manager.

Fort has a staff of 30 doctors. It operated exclusively on a fee-for-service model in 2023, but added a collaborative care model as an additional revenue stream in 2024.

Fort’s collaborative care model involves shorter, more frequent interventions. Patients are billed once a month and not per session.

“With collaborative care, it’s a special group [Current Procedural Terminology (CPT)] codes,” Schneider said. “It requires the integration, hand and glove of our behavioral health care team with the pediatrician. We’re co-managing that patient and that’s why it’s such an effective model.”

Research shows that collaborative care models can provide better health outcomes and be more cost-effective, including patients from marginalized groups who experience a greater burden of mental health problems.

While almost every state in the US is currently experiencing a severe shortage of child and adolescent psychiatrists, nearly 90% of children receive a well-child checkup from a pediatrician.

“Pediatricians are this magic key to unlock solutions,” Schneider said.

Collaborative care can also help alleviate burnout among primary care physicians, who may be forced to diagnose and treat children with behavioral health problems within a 15-minute appointment without additional psychiatric training.

“It also helps to address the overwriting issue,” Schneider said. “Children treated under collaborative care are taught coping skills by behavioral health care managers, versus simply prescribed medications.”

Most commercial payers cover collaborative care, Schneider said, and Medicaid covers collaborative care in 22 states. This alleviates a significant barrier to care for children, for whom a mental health appointment is 1,000% more likely to be out of network than a primary care appointment and twice as likely as an adult’s mental health appointment, according to American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Fort’s fee-for-service model primarily serves commercially insured patients. The company is “payer agnostic” for its collaborative care model and accepts Medicaid and commercial insurance.

Pediatricians prescribe all patient medications according to Fort’s collaborative care model, which is unusual for other care models. Under this model, the pediatrician may not know details about the patient’s treatment or medication until the child’s next well visit.

“We do the psychiatric evaluation and make a medication recommendation, but it’s always up to the clinical judgment of their pediatrician,” Schneider said. “It keeps that important relationship intact.”

Fort will expand its collaborative care program to New Jersey and Pennsylvania primary care practices one clinic at a time. The company has already integrated the first of these clinics and identified the other four.

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