Integrating Behavioral Health & Primary Care: Colocation Breaks Down Patient Resistance

Thursday, July 16th, 2015
This post was written by Patricia Donovan

Integration of behavioral health and primary care fosters 'warm handoffs' between providers.

Behavioral health conditions affect nearly one of five Americans, leading to healthcare costs of $57 billion yearly, notes a 2009 AHRQ brief. Integration of behavioral and physical health services helps to ensure access by all individuals to preventive, ongoing and appropriate behavioral health services as part of a whole-person healthcare approach.

According to 2015 metrics from the Healthcare Intelligence Network (HIN), 62 percent of healthcare organizations have integrated behavioral health and primary care to some degree, with nearly one third—31 percent—reporting they have achieved “close collaboration onsite in a partly integrated system,” one of six integration levels defined by the Center for Integrative Health Solutions (CIHS).

The greatest benefit from integrated care is easy access to behavioral health providers, say numerous respondents to HIN’s 2015 survey on Integrating Behavioral Health and Primary Care. Their on-site presence facilitates everything from daily huddles of psychologists and primary care physicians for reviewing candidates for behavioral health interventions to warm hand-offs by doctors who schedule patients with behavioral health at the end of a primary care appointment.

Colocation also helps to break down patient resistance and reduce the stigma associated with seeking behavioral health services. One respondent stated the physical presence of a psychologist in the primary care office increased patients’ willingness to engage with a behavioral health professional.

When colocation isn’t possible, telehealth can help to fill the gaps. Twenty-one percent of respondents conduct behavioral health consults via telehealth.

“Psychiatrists and independently licensed practitioners are hard to find in our rural area,” said a respondent. “Telehealth is consistently used to meet demand, often with staff sitting in ‘live’ with the member.”

Source: 2015 Healthcare Benchmarks: Integrating Behavioral Health and Primary Care

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