Behavioral Health – Primary Care Integration Partnerships: Identifying a Common Language

A successful behavioral health – primary care partnership requires focus on building the relationship from the onset.  We will explore the steps that were adapted from “Strategies to Preserve Public-Private Partnership ‘Best Practices’: Keys to Genuine Collaboration” by Greg Schmieg and Bob Climko, MD, Behavioral Health Management May/June 1998. Vol. 18 . No. 3, in this and future posts.

Integration of the partners requires a common language

Behavioral health and primary care professionals speak different languages. When the two organizations sit down to discuss the details of the partnership, everyone has stars in his/her eyes in anticipation of the wonderful things to come (and rightly so). However, many seemingly trivial matters are overlooked in the excitement. Identifying a common language between the partners is one such matter that is frequently overlooked.

Clarity of communication enhances mutual understanding of cultures, roles, and expectations

Mutual understanding of cultures, roles, and expectations sets the tone for a respectful, healthy partnership. Like any important relationship, honoring matters of importance to partners creates an environment of trust.

It is crucial to an integrated behavioral health and primary care partnership to clarify language differences and negotiate an agreement. While there are numerous commonalities among healthcare in general, specialty areas have a unique terminology as well. It is important to agree upon a language that all partners understand and agree upon. For example, there are notable differences between contract deliverables for behavioral health and primary care organizations. Failure to clarify this can potentially result in failure to meet targets.

A few examples of language differences:

  • What will the people who are served be called?  Patients, clients, consumers, members are some possibilities
  • The roles of the professionals vary among organizations and must be decided upon for the partnership
  • Medical records
  • Coding
  • Billing
  • Clinic flow
  • Management structure

Once the language has been identified and defined, patience is necessary as each partner adjusts to a new way of doing business. Patience, understanding, and ongoing compromise are key in the success of an integrated partnership.

Next time we will explore the importance of maintaining pacing, flexibility, and capacity in the behavioral health and primary care integrated partnership.

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