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Should You Integrate Behavioral Health with Primary Care?

Mental and physical health intertwine with the patient. When these two care modalities are combined, better health outcomes are achieved. Many patients see their primary care providers with untreated mental health issues. Because these doctors often aren’t trained in behavioral health, these patients may not receive the full treatment they need. This article will explore behavioral health integration and its impact on clinical practice models.

Why Integrated Care?

Integrated care is the latest paradigm shift occurring in healthcare today. Sometimes called health homes or collaborative care, integrated care models seek to combine primary patient care with mental and behavioral health services. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) is in favor of these models, citing three primary reasons:

  • Primary care providers provide one-half of the mental health care treatment for chronic psychiatric illnesses.
  • Adults with substance abuse issues or mental illness have higher instances of chronic illness and have earlier mortality than the general population.
  • Physical illness also correlates strongly with mental health conditions.

Blending the expertise of behavioral and primary care providers creates a team-based coordinated care approach to address systemic illness in the patient. Many patients see their primary care provider as a trusted resource, so they are more likely to seek them out over a new specialist in mental health or substance abuse. Too, because there is still so much stigma associated with behavioral health issues, intertwining care for these disorders with other physical illnesses could have the side effect of lessening public (and payer) perception that mental health is “different.”

The NIMH says, “Combining mental health services/expertise with primary care can reduce costs, increase the quality of care, and, ultimately, save lives.”

Why We Need to Change

Today, in most healthcare models, the primary care physician receives some training in mental and behavioral health, but most clinicians treat these issues as a secondary consult to a specialist. Relying on the patient to show up to an unknown specialist for treatment of their mental health or substance abuse issue is problematic. Addressing these issues immediately upon first contact point of care is critical to eliminating no-shows or any care coordination issues that prevent the patient from getting the care they need.

The Primary Care Team Guide suggests that “outcomes are best when primary care and behavioral health integrate their care to”:

  • Provide collaborative care between primary care and mental health or substance abuse counseling.
  • Offer assessment and management for patients in an active crisis.
  • Provide short counseling to patients suffering from an episodic crisis or issue.

There are many ways to design an integrated care delivery model. Healthcare organizations are experimenting with adding collaborative care arrangements with external substance abuse or psychiatric providers. No matter the arrangement, care providers must clearly determine the path that health records data will take to ensure better care coordination.

The benefits of these models are getting clearer. The Primary Care Team Guide reports, “Practices that successfully implement collaborative care for depression and other chronic mental health disorders consistently report much higher rates of remission and recovery.

Community healthcare organizations seeking to build their primary care and specialist teams should speak with UHC Solutions to help meet their hiring goals. We can help you reframe your care models with the right clinical teams to benefit your organization and patients. Contact us.

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