As the healthcare industry begins to recognize the benefits of integrating behavioral health into primary care, the American College of Physicians (ACP) is calling on stakeholders to take action in eliminating barriers to these partnerships.
In a position paper published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the ACP cited lack of training, resources, tools and reimbursement as reasons integrated programs are not more widespread. To address these issues, the group offered six broad recommendations involving several parties:
- Primary care practices should take steps to integrate behavioral healthcare into their treatment focus as long as providers act within the limits of their "competencies and resources."
- Health insurers, both public and private; policymakers; and healthcare professionals in primary care and behavioral health should work together to come up with ways to finance infrastructure and delivery of the whole-care approach.
- Federal and state governments as well as insurance regulators and payers should strengthen and enforce relevant nondiscrimination laws, among other actions, to close coverage gaps that prevent integration.
- Health researchers should help develop evidence-based strategies to integrate behavioral health into the primary care setting in the most effective and efficient way possible.
- Federal and state governments, along with training and continuing education programs, should help prepare healthcare professionals to support integration.
- All parties should put effort toward reducing the stigma associated with behavioral health issues and treatment.
Although work remains to be done in determining how to complete these tasks, the ACP committee emphasized the logic behind them. "Most patients with behavioral health needs use the primary care office as their main source of care, and given the nation's shortage of behavioral health providers, this may be the only setting in which behavioral health problems can be broadly recognized and treated," it wrote.
Left unchecked, behavioral health problems often escalate into substance abuse and misuse, mental health disorders, bad lifestyle habits, poor treatment outcomes, and higher rates of mortality and healthcare costs, noted MedPage.