Primary care physicians (PCP) see patients for a wide variety of reasons, but according to a recent study, there’s one category that stands out above the rest-behavioral health.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that more than 70% of visits to PCPs are related to psychosocial issues. And despite approximately 25% of adults experiencing a mental illness in a given year, more than half of them do not receive proper treatment.
This significant gap has given way to strong care coordination efforts between the physical and behavioral health communities. Initiatives such as the Collaborative Care Model (CoCM), beginning in January 2017, have created reimbursement codes for care coordination with behavioral health professionals.
The results have been encouraging, with PCP clinics that begin to collaborate and offer behavioral health services to patients experiencing a cost savings of $3,400 per patient in every category-behavioral health, medical and pharmacy-according to a study published in The American Journal of Managed Care.
But while the resources to facilitate care coordination between physicians and behavioral health professionals are available, there’s still uncertainty on the part of PCPs of how to foster these relationships.
Before diving straight into discovering and fostering relationships with behavioral health professionals, it’s important for PCPs to be curious about the needs of their patients.
Are there any patients that have been diagnosed with a physical health condition in addition to a mental health concern like depression?
If so, these patients may benefit the most from integrated care between physical and behavioral health providers. Developing a list of 10 or so patients who meet these criteria to start will allow a practice to create a mini-pilot group and craft a program based on the needs of those patients.
Next: Where do you even start?
Without understanding the patients who would benefit from a potential collaborative care program the most, finding the right behavioral health professionals becomes a more difficult task.
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Once a patient group is established, there are some practical avenues to explore for PCPs looking to establish trust and strong working relationships with behavioral health professionals and provide exceptional whole patient care.
Where does one even start in finding behavioral professionals who are both knowledgeable and willing to collaborate with PCP practices?
Chances are other PCPs in the surrounding area have collaborated with behavioral health professionals in the past or are in the middle of a similar process.
This method also acts as a great preliminary vetting process, assuming the PCP’s opinion is respected among colleagues. Gathering several opinions from various PCPs will hopefully contain a diverse group of professionals and provide a great first step in gathering initial candidates.
Collaborating with behavioral health professionals doesn’t have to be a complicated process or large financial investment. Sometimes, it’s as simple as picking up the phone and contacting them.
If there are some clinicians that potentially could be a good fit, reaching out and asking them to lunch is a great casual first step to building a relationship.
Next: Integrated care is better care
This kind of collegial setting will hopefully provide an opportunity for both sides to get to know one another and determine if there’s a fit for collaboration in the future. It’s also a great opportunity to hear how they would diagnose and treat a current patient’s behavioral health issues and better understand their diagnostic process.
Behavioral health integration may sound complicated, but it doesn’t have to be and a simple act of asking someone to lunch may be all that’s needed to get things started.
There is a financial and technological gap that exists between the physical and behavioral health communities. While there are efforts to bridge that gap through collaborative care models and incentives for behavioral professionals to embrace technology like their physician counterparts, the two communities still struggle to understand one another.
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On the part of the PCP, a practical way to further embrace fostering relationships with behavioral professionals is to study behavioral health as a whole through reading relevant online publications or attending conferences that focus on the topic.
Attending conferences, specifically, offers a number of benefits for PCPs, like obtaining continuing education credits. But if PCPs are able to attend conferences that include behaviorial professionals, they allow themselves to expand their knowledge on the issues while networking with professionals from around the country.
Greater knowledge about behavioral health issues will not only position PCPs to best treat their patients with mental illness, but can also improve their evaluation of their behavioral health colleagues in their search for optimal collaborative care relationships.
For years, the physical and behavioral health communities have been at odds without adequate understanding of each other or any productive way of providing collaborative care. But now with the behavioral health integration initiative, there’s never been a better opportunity for PCPs and behavioral health professionals to work together.
Creating and building relationships with these professionals may provide initial challenges for PCPs, but in the end, establishing collaborative care relationships is the best way to ensure that patients are receiving the best and most affordable care to improve their quality of life.