Stress created by COVID-19 pandemic strengthens need for “whole-person care,” they say
Eight leading physician organizations are calling on health care policymakers and payers to adopt policies aimed at more fully integrating behavioral health services into primary care.
In an article published online July 7 in Health Affairs, the organizations called for primary care systems to embrace a “paradigm shift” with the goal of hastening adoption of behavioral health integration (BHI) in physician practices. The organizations say they have banded together to establish the BHI Collaborative to help attain their goal.
The article notes that behavioral health conditions are a major contributor to disease burden, and that depressive and substance use disorders are among the top 10 causes of death and disability in adults. Moreover, up to 70% of primary care visits include a behavioral health component.
“A holistic, evidence-based integrated approach within primary care settings that focuses on the well-being of the whole person through all developmental stages, including the implementation of behavioral health screening and service intensity placement tools…that are standardized and normalized, can help individuals receive treatment earlier and at the right level of care,” they write.
They add that such an approach would have the additional benefit of improving job satisfaction among physicians and other care team members “as they report feeling less burned out knowing they can more fully care for their patients’ most pressing needs.”
The article acknowledges the obstacles to realizing the collaborative’s vision, including high start-up costs, low reimbursement levels, complicated and burdensome billing requirements, siloed data, and lack of workforce availability. The authors propose five steps payers can take to address these and encourage more practices to adopt BHI, including:
In addition, the collaborative calls on federal and state policymakers to:
They also urge the incorporation of telehealth and other digital tools into BHI care models “so long as it augments, rather than replaces, the longitudinal physician-patient relationship.”
Members of the BHI collaborative include: the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American College of Physicians, the American Medical Association, the American Osteopathic Association, and the American Psychiatric Association.