Three Ways Ascension & EvolvedMD Are Building Sustainable Integrated Behavioral Health Programs

Integrating behavioral health into physical health is a growing priority for many healthcare organizations. Significant research demonstrates the efficacy of different integrated care models and their positive impact on both clinical and financial outcomes. However, building integrated behavioral health programs can be challenging. From earning stakeholder buy-in, to establishing new workflows, and leading change management, establishing a new model can require a significant upfront investment. Given that investment, it can be difficult to communicate the urgent need for integration to healthcare leadership and build a sustainable roadmap.

That’s why NeuroFlow gathered leaders from innovative healthcare organizations to discuss how they established and continue to enhance integrated behavioral health programs in a recent webinar. EvolvedMD VP of Clinical Operations Sarah Hanchett, Ascension Senior Director of Behavioral Health Christina Fixari, and NeuroFlow Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tom Zaubler shared practical advice for launching successful integrated behavioral health programs. They addressed key financial concerns, provided tips for earning provider buy-in, and discussed key technologies that can streamline integration.

Watch the full webinar, “How Leading Healthcare Organizations Achieve Sustainable Integrated Behavioral Health Programs,” here. And check out some of the key takeaways from the discussion below. 

Identify the Problem

Every organization and population is unique and faces distinct challenges when it comes to addressing behavioral health needs. For example, some healthcare organizations may primarily serve lower income populations who may face specific barriers to behavioral health access, such as transportation concerns or limited access to the internet. Integrated behavioral health programs must take these factors into account in order to best meet the needs of their population.

According to EvolvedMD’s VP of Clinical Operations Sarah Hanchett, “Organizations really need to understand what they are trying to solve for, otherwise they will do a shotgun approach where they try everything and see what sticks. That’s not efficient. First, understand the problems you are trying to solve, and that will inform what model you choose to go forward with.”

Communicate Regularly to Key Stakeholders

To earn organization buy-in, it’s critical that advocates communicate regularly the “what” and the “why” of integrating care. As Hanchett noted, the “why” may differ across stakeholders. For executive leadership, it is often critical to emphasize how integrating behavioral and physical health reduces healthcare utilization and costs or how new CPT codes deliver new revenue streams. Conversely, provider stakeholders should be shown how the integrated behavioral health program will reduce their workload by effectively triaging patients to the right level of care.

The key is communicating these points to stakeholders regularly and throughout the implementation process. “It’s so important to cast your vision of what you’re attempting to do and carry that story with every stakeholder you come across, all the time,” said Ascension’s Senior Director of Behavioral Health Chirstina Fixari, “You have to always be communicating what you’re attempting to do and where you’re at with it in order to earn buy-in.”

Use Technology to Streamline Integration

Technology plays an important role in supporting and simplifying behavioral health integration. Whether the solution helps providers more easily track patients’ behavioral health data or it engages patients remotely with helpful resources, technology can alleviate the burden often placed on providers and improve access for patients.

As NeuroFlow Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tom Zaubler noted, one area where technology can enhance integrated behavioral health programs is through clinical assessments. Many providers don’t have the time to screen patients for behavioral health needs, but remote, digital assessments can fill that gap and enable universal behavioral health screening. “Technology makes it easier to do these assessments in the comfort of a patient’s own home,” said Zaubler, “You’re getting a more accurate view of how patients are doing, and you’re being alerted when a patient may be at risk. That allows care teams to prioritize their caseloads and deliver more effective care.”

For more advice on establishing and scaling an integrated behavioral health program, watch the full panel discussion here.

Ellen Harvey is the Senior Content Marketing Manager at NeuroFlow. She has over nine years of experience writing about technology and innovation for business leaders. At NeuroFlow, she writes about prominent trends in behavioral health and illustrates how NeuroFlow's technology helps healthcare, payor, and government organizations improve the well-being of their constituents.

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