Why It's Essential to Integrate Behavioral Health and Primary Care

We’re starting to pay more attention to behavioral health in primary care settings. This is very important.

For decades, clinical care in the US has been segmented into silos, with specialists operating more or less independently from primary care providers. A lot has changed in the past few years, with the improvement of technology, the consolidation of provider groups and regulatory redesign each pushing for greater coordination of care.

But why is integration of care important? With regards to behavioral health, here’s a graphic to give you a sense of the overlap:

  Source: American Hospital Association, 2012

Source: American Hospital Association, 2012

Illnesses tend to be highly overlapped, with more than two thirds of mental health patients also needing other medical treatment as well. Given that the illnesses are combined, so should our care.

The returns on improving patient lives are significant. If a patient with a medical condition, say diabetes, does not receive treatment for his or her mental illness, treating the diabetes itself becomes more costly. Patients are less compliant, less autonomous, and more likely to miss appointments. The cost of this is staggering:

Taking a look at diabetes, we see that when a patient has co-morbid depression as well, their cost of treating the diabetes alone is 80% higher. If we can effectively manage the depression, the costs of managing diabetes return to normal.

There is a lot to be gained by integrating behavioral health treatment into medical settings. Not only will patients receive more accurate, coordinated care that fits their needs, but also patients will recover faster and cost the system less.

This is known. Actually doing it is the challenge in front of us now.