The benefits of integrated behavioral healthcare (IBH), which unites behavioral and physical health in the primary care setting, are well-documented. Research reports lower total medical costs, improved mental health and physical outcomes, and improved patient and care team satisfaction. The Population Health Alliance (PHA) shares these key outcomes in its latest Issue Brief, and critically, it also explores some of the challenges of implementing IBH and how to overcome them.
PHA writes that improving adoption of IBH models is a critical part of achieving the quadruple aim: enhancing patient experience, improving population health, reducing costs, and improving the work life of care providers. Here are some of their top recommendations to overcome IBH adoption challenges:
Improve Integrated Behavioral Health Access With Digital Solutions
A common challenge to IBH is access. In the U.S., the healthcare system requires an additional 6,498 mental health providers in order to fill the gaps in behavioral health. Digital solutions can help improve access to wider populations. According to PHA, “Digitally augmented behavioral health integration efficiently enables care teams to treat patients’ mental health needs while navigating the right care to be provided to the right patient.” Digital solutions can quickly assess and risk stratify patients so that they receive the right level of care and don’t overburden stretched medical resources.
Make Integrated Behavioral Health a Part of Residency
PHA recommends medical education, particularly at the point of residency, should emphasize the impact of mental, physical, and behavioral health. Combined medical and psychiatric residency programs will better prepare primary care providers and psychiatrists to collaborate and successfully execute IBH, argues PHA.
Unify Quality Standards and Outcome Measurement
Another challenge to implementing and scaling IBH is that providers are not employing universal standards and best practices consistently. Measurement tools like PHQ-9 and GAD-7 are critical for assessing patients for behavioral health conditions, determining treatment, and measuring outcomes over time. Unfortunately this type of measurement is not integrated across health systems and payors, and there are no standards for patients’ behavioral health outcomes. This makes it difficult to implement effective treatment across populations and measure the true impact of IBH.
For more recommendations on how to improve IBH and implement it more effectively, check out the complete PHA Issue Brief here.