Integrating Behavioral Health with Primary Care

Integrating Behavioral Health with Primary Care

At Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, we recognize the important role that behavioral health practitioners can play in improving patient care. In addition to treating patients with psychiatric disorders, they can help patients cope with chronic medical problems, comply with medication regimens and adjust to life changes, stress, anxiety and pain.

Patients who have chronic medical conditions in conjunction with behavioral health disorders also experience higher health care costs — with much of the difference attributable to higher medical, not mental, health expenditures. One analysis found that although the presence of another chronic condition in conjunction with depression or anxiety boosts medical and mental health care costs, more than 80 percent of the increase stems from medical spending.

In fact, the monthly cost for a patient with a chronic disease and depression is $560 more than for a person with a chronic disease without depression, according to a study titled Chronic Condition and Comorbid Psychological Disorders.

That’s one reason we’ve been working with physician organizations to improve communication between primary care physicians and behavioral health specialists and ensure coordination of care between providers and various health care settings. We call this initiative “Integrating Behavioral Health into General Medical Care,” and it’s part of our Physician Group Incentive Program.

The initiative rewards 11 select physician organizations (POs) based on participation in collaborative activities and completion of specific quality improvement activities. These POs have made significant progress in improving behavioral health-primary care integration in such areas as the following:

  • Key behavioral health measures
  • Integrating depression screening into practices
  • Implementing referral processes to behavioral therapists and community resources
  • Embedding behavioral health specialists into primary care offices

In addition, some POs have held expos to highlight the work of primary care practices, behavioral health practices and other resources within the community.

“These expos have been enormously successful in making sure that participants were aware of the work that was taking place within the community and the services that were available,” said Kathleen Kobernik, a senior health care analyst with Value Partnerships. “These events help health care providers determine the best approaches to take for patients who may benefit from behavioral health services.”

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Photo Credit: Fotos GOVBA

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