behavioral health integration · behavioral health primary care integration · collaborative care · healthcare integration · primary care behavioral health integration

UPDATE: The Greatest Challenges for Integrating Behavioral Health and Primary Care Services

The recent poll conducted via the LinkedIn group, Behavioral Health Integration, continued to generate thought-provoking comments following the last post. (Click here to see the initial results.) Thought-leaders, behavioral health, and primary care professionals have offered their perspectives on the pressing question:


Mark L:  Community health records (CHR) that follows the patient and not the provider or payer source will create the sustainability –finance and billing that aid Partnerships to create better operations/workflow that in turn solve workforce issues.
I think the solution for integration of health care is an IT solution that allows for communication not in any “one” silo but in a cloud, it is the premise of the question about integration that it will be in a silo that leads to obsolescence or a least does not address systemic issues of communion about the actual needs of the patient first.

  1. Providers at all levels of care need to exchange information both horizontally and vertically, such as a transfer of care to another provider at a higher or lower level of care. Also community integration of available resources for discharges from one provider to the next or transitions to the public systems from private system or vice versa.
  2. The public and private sectors need to work together to “speak the same IT Language” the health record should follow the person in any system.
  3. Acute care and mental health care systems need the same ability to communicate, whether or not you call the person a client or patient. Mental health and acute care providers can then communicate and bill on a “continuity of care” coordinating treatment for a patient as a team and not in silos.
    The export of data from one CHR to the next is where standardization needs to be the focus. I am excited to see future of blending of Regional Health Information Organizations (RHIOs), Health Information Exchange (HIE). RHIOs and HIE are changing the discussion from silos to clouds.

Leslie B: This may be one of my favorite topics. Yes, I agree that IT can play a part of it, but that is not the only part of the system that needs to change. Like one of the members of discussion, the providers and their ability to talk to each other is one. Program Development requires system and staff changes, changes in thinking, and the ability to assess each site. Each Primary care setting has its own challenges, so one can say provider insight at one location and Behavioral Health provider readiness at another location and yet another location might have the inability to see each other’s records or there may be a staffing problem. I think the biggest challenge can be who is going to pay for it, once everybody in the system figures out what it is anyway. It may require more behavioral health providers and more medical providers. Will there really be a return on that investment. The patient would probably get more holistic care, but it isn’t going to cost any less money.

Bob H:  I believe that one of the greatest challenges is that we need to stop talking about behavioral health and primary care and begin focusing on the needs of the individuals receiving our services and how our systems can best serve their needs. We need to include clear measures of ‘behavioral economics’ and understand that we all act and react to rewards and benefits. We need to structure our systems and our interventions to incentivize overall health improvements, whether behavioral or medical.
We will only have truely intregrated care when we are patient centered and stop distinguishing between behavioral health and primary care. That does not mean that we will not have specialists; whether they be psychiatric, medical, communication, design, or information and technology. It is all about the focus on the patient’s needs and building workflows to address those needs appropriately to assist them in reaching productive and effective outcomes as a result of our services and interventions.

Nelson B: In short, the greatest challenge of healthcare integration is getting paid for effective services. Coleman Professional Services will look at the best outcome of our customer; their health, their ability to have stable living conditions, volunteering or employed and their ability to appropriate socialize in their community. Let’s look at the outcome for our customer and get paid for this outcome.

Michael J: Reading this thread shows that there is a great deal of thought being put into this topic. I think that some of this boils down to a chicken and an egg. And Nelson is right on target about the pay systems. We in our industry have not truly integrated mental healthcare and addictions treatment. Now I know there are pockets of good co-occurring treatment programs here and there, but as an industry they continue to be separate. And the biggest reason is following the money. The money for these services are not braided, and so they stay separate.
I’m currently working on a perinatal mental health integration project. We know what to do clinically (we are using the IMPACT model) and we have OBs who want to participate. We have Medicaid insured women we have identified as needing care. But since the Medicaid is carved-out, the physical health Medicaid plan will not pay for the service as they don’t pay for MH services, and the MH plan won’t pay because they don’t purchase physician services from non-psychiatrists unless they are credentialed as a part of a licensed agency with a MH contract. If the insurance companies and the government wanted to have integrated healthcare, they would have it. If there was a requirement that integrated care was insisted upon for reimbursement we would be all over it. In fact, we do all sorts of odd things now to respond to external requirements that have absolutely nothing to do with the delivery of care. So I have to believe that once the system starts demanding integration it will have it. The system gets what the market commands. The reason there are no solid IT solutions that can incorporate MH and PC is because the market doesn’t demand it. But vendors will respond when that’s required or they will be out of business, just like we would be if the demands were levied upon us and we didn’t respond.

Bob F: This has been a great discussion Cheryl – thanks for posting it. I read the responses from the other groups where you posted this question as well. It seems there isn’t necessarily an individual “biggest” challenge that organizations face versus as much as a varying number or group of issues that organizations face depending on a variety of factors: state environment, organizational structure, readiness to change, internal infrastructure, willing partners, etc. One of the keystones of integrated care is that our patients come to us fully assembled, and our treatment/wellness/prevention response to them has to be, in turn, as fully assembled in order to be effective. And efficient. Clearly the challenge we face in just about every region of the country is that the obstacles are likewise effectively assembled. At Cherokee Health Systems here in TN – even after running an integrated system for over 30 years new challenges surface all the time, chief among them payers who shift priorities from contract to contract, workforce (less primary care docs and psychiatrists all the time), finding time to be innovative in the development of such practices as telehealth, telepsychiatry and telepharmacy, etc. When we do our training academies we focus on all of these issues – administrative, operations, financing, workforce, PC-BH collaborations, model development – because we understand that it is almost never a single obstacle. Anyway – great to follow along and see the efforts being undertaken out there!

David R: New EMR processes are forcing medical case management accountability. Behavioral health case management processes are a generation behind medical and will require a sizable accountability shift for clinical participants.

*The question was also posted in these LinkedIn groups: Behavioral Healthcare Magazine Group, Mental Health Networking, The Friends of SAMHSA.

The poll results demonstrated a shift: with 44 total votes, Partnership has demonstrated a considerable increase, closing the gap on Sustainability.


Sustainability — finance and billing           38%

Partnership issues                                           31%

Workforce issues                                              7%

HIT issues                                                         5%

Operations/workflow issues                         18%

Without a doubt, each of the five factors is very important for successful integration. The next blog post will take a look at overcoming these challenges.

What do YOU think is the greatest challenge for integrating behavioral health and primary care services? Please send your comments to or visit Behavioral Health Integration


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