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Most primary care practices treat patients every day, many of which have an untreated mental illness. In fact, 80% of patients with a behavioral health problem visit a primary care clinic at least once a year. Many of these patients also want to get mental health treatment from their primary health care providers, as they believe that their physicians know well, and they want to avoid the stigma of going to a specialist. However, the problem is that many practices do not feel that they can sufficiently address their patients’ behavioral health needs. This is mainly because they weren’t trained for that specifically. 

This situation raises the question: should there be behavioral health integration in primary care practices? Here’s what we need to know:

There are Benefits to Gain

Given that behavioral health problems are significant contributing factors to mortality and medical morbidity, it’s only right that we look into possible ways to address them. One of the best ways is integrating behavioral health care into primary care, which comes with the following benefits:

  • It enhances the overall patient experience. When you can address the patients’ biological needs and their social and psychological needs, you are treating the whole person and improving the patient’s experience in your practice.
  • It helps reduce medical costs. Did you know that the American healthcare system can save up anywhere between $36 and $68 million in a year with behavioral health integration? Patients can benefit from medical cost reductions when their primary care providers treat their behavioral health and substance abuse problems as well. 
  • It improves the performance and the quality of life of both primary care doctors and behavioral health providers. How so? When there’s behavioral health integration, primary care doctors can easily ask for behavioral health specialists’ help and focus on the patients’ physical concerns and vice-versa. Performance and productivity are improved, and stress is then reduced. 

Imagine a scenario where you see a patient for primary care: you can determine if the patient also needs to be seen for a behavioral health assessment with a specialist or social worker. The patient will just have to return to the same primary clinic for the evaluation, and possibly, for the therapy sessions. With this, there will be no need for referrals, and the patient won’t have to adjust to going to another clinic. Given that about 30% to 50% of patients who get referrals from primary care to behavioral health clinics do not show up to their appointments, primary care clinics must consider behavioral health integration to improve this figure.

There Are Challenges to Overcome

The challenges that come with integrating behavioral health into primary care are mainly on the management aspect. When there are different departments in the clinic, it can lead to confusion, longer waiting times, and inefficient policies. However, these only happen when the management systems are not fully integrated. Instead of having separate outpatient departments for each, it might also be helpful if you just have one. When you approach the patient as a team, they will have a better and destigmatizing experience.

Conclusion

Behavioral health integration can change the way primary care practices treat patients and improve the overall patient experience. When pediatric and adult primary care clinics can provide behavioral health care, it also improves patients’ chances of getting the specialty care they need compared to when they get referred somewhere else.

When your clinic has integrated behavioral health care, Medistics Health can help you monitor the patients’ progress remotely. Our remote patient monitoring system can help you track the results of tests done by patients at home. Get in touch with us today to learn more about how we can simplify care management for you!

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