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February 20, 2019 Readers Write No Comments

Why Integrated Behavioral Healthcare is More Important than Ever
By Christopher Molaro

Christopher Molaro, MBA is co-founder and CEO of NeuroFlow of Philadelphia, PA.

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The pieces are starting to fall into place. Mental health is becoming an integral part of the overall conversation around health. Mental health is discussed in sync with physical health.

It makes sense, too. One affects the outcomes of the other dramatically and the extra costs associated with mental health co-occurrences is staggering.

The question remains: how do we effectively integrate appropriate behavioral healthcare for individual patients when they need it and do so in a cost-effective and time-efficient manner? In other words, how can we align the interests of patients, providers, and payers?

The market is indicating that now is the time to integrate mental and behavioral health into the patient journey. Physical health and mental health are merged into just “health,” patients get the holistic care they need and deserve, and providers are empowered with the tools to improve outcomes and payers save in costs. The triple win is attainable.

Multiple leading commercial payers are reimbursing for certain collaborative care CPT codes released in 2017 and 2018, highlighting the growing awareness around the importance of mental health. As we shift towards a value-based care system, a focus on patient engagement, satisfaction, and outcomes will add visibility to the benefits – and cost savings – of integrated behavioral health.

Also, considering the enormous behavioral health expenses of employees — mental illness costs the US $193.2 billion in lost earnings every year, according the American Journal of Psychiatry — employers are equally willing to find new ways to provide their employees access to tools to address mental health.

The awareness efforts of non-profits, advocacy groups, and healthcare organizations to normalize the conversation around mental health have been invaluable. At the same time, leading athletes and entertainers opening up about their mental health conditions is eroding the historical stigma surrounding those who struggle with behavioral health. Heightened awareness begets healthier, more frequent discussions around treatments and solutions for the one in five Americans experiencing mental illness.

Aetna’s recent “Health Ambitions” study highlights that healthcare consumers recognize the importance of mental health. Over one-third of respondents say digital messaging would make them more likely to communicate with their doctors, and the majority of people ages 18-50 say they would be likely to use a confidential website or app to track health information.

This new narrative around mental health is getting louder, and it will only help to bridge the gap between mental and physical health and the solutions patients need. But numerous studies indicate that we still have a long way to go when it comes to providing digital health technologies that meet the expectations of the modern healthcare consumer.

The digital doctor’s office is no longer a future vision, but a present-day reality. While adoption of these innovative tools can be slow, healthcare providers are rapidly warming up to technologies that can improve patient outcomes while absorbing it into their workflow and existing EMRs.

With behavioral health integration, we’ve arrived at an alignment of incentives and mechanisms among payers, providers, and patients that is rare in the modern healthcare landscape. This is an exciting opportunity for the future of mental health and one that we as a community can’t afford to pass up. The data supports the opportunity as well. Decades of research highlight the effectiveness of collaborative care in psychiatry, and when patients stay engaged with behavioral health treatment, outcomes are improved drastically.

Eighty percent of people with a behavioral health disorder will visit a primary care provider at least once a year, yet we know that treatment and access are still major issues, as nearly 60 percent of adults with a mental illness didn’t receive mental health services in the previous year, according to the National Institute on Mental Illness.

While there is much work ahead, we are encouraged by the progress we’re seeing in hundreds of clinics around the country from pediatric / school settings to geriatric and Medicare populations. Mental health knows no bounds — it can affect anyone. As a health system, our effort in addressing mental health access and engagement should also show no bounds.

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