Embedding Mental Health Care Within the Primary Care Office Reduces Stigma

Deborah Reinheimer

| 2 min read

It’s not easy to talk about mental health. The discomfort and negative perception surrounding mental health care can influence people to avoid treatment. In one survey, 56% of respondents said they were uncomfortable talking to friends and family about their mental health, and 84% said they were not comfortable talking with their employer about their mental health.
Kristyn Spangler, LMSW, associate director of Behavioral Health at Trinity Health IHA Medical Group in Ann Arbor, saw firsthand how often people were reluctant to pursue behavioral health services because of the stigma associated with it.
When Kristyn learned about a model of care that integrates mental health into the primary care setting, she knew it was something that would help IHA patients. The model – called Collaborative Care – embeds behavioral health specialists into primary care offices. Patients can receive needed care for their whole health in a familiar setting and have quicker access to mental health care.
“We have found improved outcomes from the Collaborative Care model,” said Spangler. “The behavioral health specialist does evaluations for mental health conditions. They present the case to a consulting psychiatrist who makes recommendations for treatment and sometimes medication.”
“By being in the primary care office, we remove some stigma, because it’s not clear why you’re there. You could be there for a routine exam,” Spangler continued. “It’s convenient, and it increases access.”
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan has been working with physician organizations across Michigan to implement the Collaborative Care model, providing resources and support for practices. In September 2022, Blue Cross announced the first Collaborative Care designations, with 213 patient-centered medical home practices located in 33 counties across Michigan. The designation allows the practices to earn additional reimbursement for providing Collaborative Care to patients. 
“It’s game changing. Collaborative care is part of an overall approach we are taking to improve behavioral health care for our members,” said Amy McKenzie, M.D., vice president of clinical partnerships and associate chief medical officer at Blue Cross. “We’re supporting this model because we believe this concept of integrating mental health care and primary care is just so important for the future.”
Learn more about the ways Blue Cross is ready to help support members and the community with mental health care here.
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