Posted By Amanda Girard On November 9, 2021
Treatment for behavioral health is a critical part of wellness that affects treatment and healing for other medical issues. Having primary care or other care clinicians trained in Behavioral Health Integration (BHI) and with EHR support for co-treatment is important to whole person care. As health centers are integrating behavioral health care services into their practice setting, the EHR they use is important.
Why do we need an integrated care approach?
When healthcare professionals treat patients only for physical conditions and not accompanying behavioral health conditions, they are not providing whole person care. Patients with behavioral health problems (including mental health and substance abuse conditions) often return to the doctor repeatedly with similar physical problems stemming from untreated behavioral health concerns. Failing to provide co-treatment via behavioral health integration fails to heal the patient, and also drives up the cost of their health care in the long term.
How successful is Behavioral Health Integration?
The success of behavioral health integration has been documented extensively. One study by JAMA assessing the effectiveness of integrated care revealed that patients who received it were able to address any health concerns, such as depression and diabetes, more effectively. Patients were more satisfied with their integrated care. Those patients also utilized less services over time and spent less money than those not receiving integrated care at other practices. Behavioral Health Integration is not only more effective in terms of care; it is also a more affordable healthcare solution.
Where are the disconnects in integrated care?
- Lack of coordination between primary care and behavioral health care providers;
- Inadequate primary care for behavioral health; and
- Stigma about mental health conditions.
How can an EHR support Behavioral Health Integration?
Primary care and other care providers are often the first step in identifying behavioral health concerns. Whether or not a healthcare center has in-house behavioral health staff, their EHR should have screening, assessment and reporting tools available for depression, anxiety and controlled substance abuse. If there are in-house behavioral health staff, the EHR should also support treatment plans and progress notes. Even if healthcare clinics are referring out patients for behavioral health services, having tools to start the process of assessment, refer the patient out, and then automate follow up with messages asking if they received their behavioral health care, is the key to making sure a patient is supported throughout their care journey. The job of the EHR system is to ease assessment and treatment, ease coordination between care providers, and ease communication with patients.
Integrated behavioral health care, as a part of whole person care, is an important shift in the practice of high-quality health care. Health centers must provide behavioral health services for mental health and substance abuse issues, either directly themselves or through agreement with another provider. Your EHR can support whole person care not only with behavioral health integration, but also through similar, whole person care initiatives such as Public Health 3.0 and Social Determinants of Health (SDOH). When you are considering an EHR system for your healthcare clinic, please keep in mind how your EHR is supporting co-treatment and whole person care in all of these ways.