Move to bring behavioral health to primary care means healthier patients

It’s usually in an off-hand comment that patients bring up mental health issues such as depression, addiction and stress during their check-ups, says Mary Murdoch, M.D., a pediatrician at Southern Oregon Pediatrics in Medford. Since March, Murdoch has referred her patients to Jared Cox, Ph.D., who practices at the same location as a behavioral health consultant.

Patients can choose to visit with Cox in one of the practice’s exam rooms--or they can elect to meet with him in a homier space that comes with cozy chairs and couches, reports the Mail Tribune. Having access to a behavioral health specialist right there on-site makes all the difference, Cox told the news outlet.

That’s because patients are likely to look for mental health support only about 10 percent of the time after a referral from their doctor--that number shoots up to 80 percent if the mental health specialist is located at the same facility, according to Cox.

Recent research bears out these findings. Integrating behavioral health services in the primary-care environment leads to higher rates of depression screening--46 percent, compared to 24 percent at practices that don’t provide such services on-site, according to a recent study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

In this study of more than 113,000 adults at 113 primary-care practices within the Salt Lake City, Utah-based Intermountain Medical Group, diabetes patients with access to integrated care were 25 percent more likely--compared to 20 percent of patients without access to on-site behavioral health services--to prove adherent to their treatment plans, found researchers.

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