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

The Partnership: Choosing the Right Model for Your Integrated Healthcare Services

Determining the Model

How do partnering Community Behavioral Health Centers (CBHC) and  Community Health Centers (CHC) determine the ideal model for their foray into integration? There are many factors to consider such as:

  • What are the needs of the individuals served by the partnering organizations?
  • What are the needs of the community?
  • What resources do the organizations bring to the partnership?

Now that the partners have a solid foundation and clear vision for their collaboration, it is time for the careful planning that is necessary to make it a reality.  There are effective tools available to assist organizations in working through this very important process. (Please note that these suggestions and resources are not limited to community providers.) 

The MH/Primary Care Integration Options scale  is available on the SAMHSA-HRSA Center for Integrated Health Solution website. This is very helpful for leading the discussion among the members of the implementation team. The scale assists the partners not only in determining the current reality but also mutually deciding on the desired level of integration: Minimal Collaboration, Basic Collaboration from a Distance, Basic Collaboration On-Site, Close Collaboration/Partly Integrated, and Fully Integrated/Merged in each of these key functional areas:

  1. Access: How do individuals access services?
  2. Services: Are the services separate and distinct or are the primary care and behavioral health services seamless? Or perhaps somewhere in between.
  3. Funding: Do the partners share resources or are they separate?
  4. Governance: Are there separate boards of directors for each organization?
  5. Evidence-based Practices: Do the organizations administer the PHQ-9 or disease registries, for example, and share the results?
  6. Data: Do the partners share information? Do the providers have access to the partner’s EHR?

This assessment process is most effective when stakeholders from each organization are included. Ideally, representatives are included from clinical, management, and administrative departments, as well as a few individuals who use the services. It’s very helpful to have frontline staff and board members to take part as well.  Call center and reception staff offer a unique perspective that leadership frequently finds enlightening.

Other useful tools available include the National Council’s Success in the New Healthcare Ecosystem: Mental Health & Substance Use Provider Readiness Assessment prepared by Dale Jarvis.   This allows provider organization management teams to assess their organization’s readiness for engaging in the changing healthcare system.

Another tool to consider is the COMPASS-PH/BH  created by Zia Partners.  This self-assessment tool is used for primary care/behavioral health integration for implementation of a Comprehensive Continuous Integrated System of Care.

Making the Vision into a Reality

Once the ideal model of integration has been determined, the journey begins to make it a reality. Be sure to stop by for the next installment in the series.

What tools or methods have you found to be helpful when selecting a model for your healthcare integration endeavor?

I would love to hear from you! Please email your suggestions to me at for inclusion in a future post.


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

The Partnership: Creating a Solid Foundation for Successful Healthcare Integration

Consider this scenario:

The CEO of the local Community Behavioral Health Center (CBHC) and the CEO of the local Community Health Center (CHC) bump into each other at a local community function. The conversation turns to a deliberation about healthcare integration. They plan to meet for lunch next week to discuss it further.

At lunch, they examine the latest healthcare trend: providers from behavioral health and primary care joining forces to form integrated healthcare partnerships to improve health outcomes. Both agree that theirs’ is a match made in heaven. Over dessert they decide to become partners, sealed with a firm handshake.

What happens next?

For a successful partnership, it is crucial to start with a solid foundation that includes flexibility in the core structure to weather the inevitable storms ahead. This must be accomplished before beginning to build. Failure to adequately address this will result in a partnership that appears to be healthy on the outside but with a weak core. Remember that it’s easy to have a good relationship during the good times. When troubles arise, the solid core serves as an anchor to enable perseverance.  To accomplish this, there are key areas that must be discussed thoroughly before moving on to formalizing the partnership.

Why is this important?

Consider this version of the next chapter in the aforementioned scenario:

Over a series of phone calls, the two CEOs discuss the details of their lunchtime plan for partnering to to provide integrated healthcare. Topics discussed include creating a Memorandum of Understanding; financial arrangements (who pays for what); which services will be provided; and who bills for which services; becoming a health home. Separately, the CEOs meet with their management teams to plan logistics. At that point the leaders, thinking their work was done, withdrew from the planning. The management teams put together the clinical teams for providing the services. The various teams finally meet for a face-to-face planning session, roughly two weeks prior to the scheduled kickoff. The CEOs make a final appearance to give it their blessings.

The teams are thrust into the arranged marriage, virtual strangers. They never had the opportunity to establish a relationship before the partnership was finalized.

Shortly after the two year anniversary, the partnership is dissolved. The two CEOs think back to the dessert agreement with the “happily ever after” partnership they envisioned and, scratching their heads, wonder what happened.

Unfortunately too many partnerships follow the course outlined above. Once the relationship is dissolved, the organizations return to business as usual. However, it is the people who received the integrated services who are hurt as a result; once again left without services.

Some important things to consider for a successfully integrating behavioral health and primary care include the following:

Identifying the Vision and Mission

Locating a partner is an important first step. Before the partnership is formalized, however, it’s essential to carefully clarify the vision and mission to ensure that they are in alignment with the expectations of each of the organizations. Each partner must become very familiar with the other’s mission and vision. These questions will help to drive that discussion:

    • Are the potential partners prepared for taking on a new business venture?
    • Are the stated missions of the organizations in sync?
    • Can the long-term plans of each organization be adjusted to include this partnership?

Over the next few weeks we will examine critical steps to ensure that your partnership avoids the pitfalls that the organizations in the scenario encountered: A partnership that has the solid and flexible foundation that is necessary for a lasting partnership.

Next week we will take a look at the process of determining the level of integration that will best fit with your vision for the partnership.

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

Healthcare Integration Partnerships: Understanding Specialty Behavioral Health

The integration of behavioral health and primary care services allows for a holistic approach for the treatment of people with serious behavioral health disorders. As the disparate healthcare providers join together to provide treatment, the obvious differences between them must be addressed for success.

There are misconceptions that behavioral health providers want to address with their primary care partners for maximizing their integration efforts.

Understanding the Community Behavioral Health Core Mission

Community Behavioral Health Centers (CBHCs) are specialty behavioral healthcare providers and serve a vital role in the healthcare industry.  The community behavioral health system provides treatment for individuals who have serious mental illnesses, substance use disorders, co-occurring SMI/SUD, and children and adolescents with serious emotional disturbances. These organizations are not a repository for the worried well. Their role is to address complex disorders that are generally beyond the scope of practice of primary care providers. In addition to providing psychiatric oversight, they also possess an expertise in rehabilitation and recovery that is not available in primary care. These services include psychosocial rehabilitation, peer support, case management, supported employment, and supportive housing. Treatment is provided through a team approach that begins with a thorough biopsychosocial assessment to identify life stressors, level of functioning, and clinical symptomology. Services are directed by the psychiatrist or psychiatric-extender who serves as prescriber.  Counseling, rehabilitation, recovery, and support services are carried out by other members of the team.  CBHCs can work collaboratively with CHCs to effectively meet the whole health needs of people with behavioral health concerns.

Differing Pace and Workflow 

The CBHC pace is very unlike that of the primary care clinic. Long waits for appointments are the norm rather than the exception. CBHC office visits with the prescriber frequently exceed the standard 15 minute allotment in the CHC. This is due to the complexity of symptoms of many of the individuals served. While some CBHCs are beginning to use an open access approach, most are still using the standard scheduled appointment model that may result in a several week wait to see a prescriber. This has been a barrier to working collaboratively in the past. CHCs have opted to avoid making referrals because of the excessive wait and lack of status updates.

A side note: behavioral health can assist with the flow in the primary care setting. The flow of busy primary care clinics can be side-railed by patients with behavioral health disorders in addition to their other health concerns. Adding a behavioral health specialist to the team to address the behavioral health issues improves the flow, patient satisfaction, and clinical outcomes.

Lack of Regulation Uniformity

Reimbursement for CBHC services varies greatly from primary care. Block grants for mental health and substance use disorder treatment are regulated at the state level, resulting in a lack of consistency. Each state has created its own system for determining how the funds are allocated and how outcomes are measured. The process of billing for and receiving reimbursement for services is tedious. Some states have opted for capitation; others have a fee for service system. Other states have outsourced this to managed care companies.  Historically private insurance has not provided equitable coverage for behavioral health disorders, creating a gap between coverage for behavioral health and physical health conditions. A mental health law, the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, ensures that individuals with mental health and substance use disorders receive healthcare services equal to those for physical health conditions without larger co-pays.

Unique Needs of Specialty Care

The National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors (NASMHPD) 2006, Morbidity and Mortality for People with Serious Mental Illness, reports that people with serious mental illness are dying on average 25 years earlier than the general population. In addition, according to Substance Use Disorders and the Person-Centered Healthcare Home a 2010 report by Barbara Mauer, people with co-occurring mental illness and substance use disorders were at greatest risk with their average age of death 45 years of age. The people we serve are dying prematurely in part due to poor quality of medical care. This population fails to get adequate healthcare for a variety of reasons. Integrating primary care services in the behavioral health setting is a viable solution for improving health outcomes.

  • Specialty behavioral health services for individuals who have a serious mental illness and one or more comorbid health condition requires coordinated care. Ideally the care is delivered via the behavioral health home. The team is led by the psychiatrist working closely with the entire treatment team, including the primary care provider.
  • Stigma is a barrier to accessing services for people with behavioral health disorders. Historically preconceived notions associated with behavioral health disorders have limited effective access to healthcare by many individuals.
  • Due to the pervasive lack of support systems for people with serious behavioral health conditions, the role of case manager is extremely important for supporting identified functional needs. Case managers frequently assist clients with preparing for visits with their primary care provider and often accompany them as well to ensure coordinated care.

Solution for Information Sharing

Historically CBHCs have not freely communicated with primary care about their shared patients. This originated because of a common misperception that has persisted in behavioral health that sharing mental health and substance use information with primary care providers is prohibited without going through an elaborate process. CBHCs realize that this has created a barrier for collaboration and are actively working at developing a solution; addressing HIPAA/confidentiality and 42 CFR Part 2 to develop a process for effectively sharing information.

It is through increased understanding of the differences between the healthcare partners that true success will occur, evidenced by improved health outcomes.

healthcare integration

Health Information Technology and Healthcare Integration

Health information technology (HIT) is important to healthcare providers for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is for complying with Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Records (EHR) Incentive Program requirements.

HIT is critical to the success of health homes and healthcare integration, allowing behavioral health and primary care providers to share information. This sharing enables healthcare providers to have access to all available healthcare information related to the individual being served. And this, of course, results in improved health outcomes. The SAMHSA-HRSA Center for Integrated Health Solutions has a wide array of HIT resources: click here for more information.

The Past

Not too many years ago, healthcare providers were handwriting or dictating their progress notes. When patients were seen outside the office, or if the notes were not yet filed in the chart, the limited amount of information available created a challenge to providing the best care. A patient who was unable to provide a thorough medical history was being treated blindly in some regards. And health implications aside, numerous medical procedures were repeated due to lack of access to the reports. Duplication of the procedures drove up healthcare costs.

In addition, the sharing of information between providers was the exception rather than the rule. Coordination of care between providers for patients referred to specialty care was not reimbursed and, as a result of limited resources, less than ideal. This brief history lesson on medical records serves to illustrate the value of electronic health records and health information technology.

Fast Forward to the Present

Though far from ideal, the healthcare industry is making great strides in health information technology, including health information exchanges (HIEs) designed to facilitate the sharing of data. Despite the rapid progress, sharing information continues to be a challenge for behavioral health and primary care organizations. These integration efforts create unique challenges, largely due to problems with sharing information between two systems. The electronic health records (EHRs) used by primary care providers are seldom compatible with EHRs used by behavioral health providers. While some partnerships have implemented means of addressing this (work arounds), such as a third system to link the two or “home grown” alternatives, there are currently no ideal options available.

These noble community providers persevere however. They are well accustomed to dealing with challenges in the quest for pursuing their mission. People with serious mental illness are dying prematurely; and has been inadvertently perpetuated by this lack of information sharing. In an attempt to be respectful and responsible with healthcare information, limitations (and misunderstandings) have impeded information sharing. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), Public Law 104-191 and Title 42: Public Health Part 2—Confidentiality of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Patient Records, also known as 42-CFR Part 2, are the most frequently cited reasons for not sharing information. These federal regulations cite guidelines for confidential health information. Though intended to provide clarity, healthcare organizations have interpreted the regulations very conservatively.

The Future

HIT has changed the face of healthcare and holds great promise for the future of behavioral health and primary care integration. Health information technology is not only providing cost-effective means of providing superior collaborative treatment, it is paving  the way for reducing the health disparities for people with serious mental illness and other behavioral health conditions.

Affordable Care Act · health care reform · healthcare integration

Health Care Reform: The Affordable Care Act and Healthcare Integration

The Supreme Court decision on June 28, 2012, delivered approximately 10:15am EDT, is a boon for healthcare integration. (Though it was scary there for a few minutes when certain hasty, overanxious members of the media provided the wrong results!)

For the past few years, community behavioral health and primary care organizations have been working collaboratively to provide services for the people they serve, diligently trying to create the perfect formula for doing what is best for the healthcare needs of the people they serve, while at the same time striving to remain financially solvent. And they have done a remarkable job! But it isn’t easy…nor have their outcomes always been ideal, largely due to limited resources. Certainly not for lack of trying!

These benevolent community providers are charged with serving the most in need. This does not always translate into being adequately compensated for their efforts, however. While some have been forced to limit their services, most have managed to avoid rationing thus far through their persistence in seeking alternatives, such as creating referral agreements, co-locating, full integration, and with grant funding. In addition, many have engaged in advocating for change at the local, state, and national levels. These tenacious providers recognize that an unwavering focus on the mission is the foundation for success.

With the newly upheld Affordable Care Act, more people will have access to healthcare coverage and will not be rejected because of pre-existing conditions. Also, for the states that don’t opt out of the new Medicaid expansion, all residents below the 133 percent of the poverty line will be eligible for Medicaid coverage. Therefore, more of the people served by community providers who were previously uninsured will have healthcare coverage. This will allow the providers to be compensated for more of the services they provide, thus supporting the mission.

The ACA doesn’t provide all the answers but it is a move in the right direction. Politics aside, our healthcare system isn’t working the way it is. We need major changes. We already know that integrating behavioral health and primary care services is more economical and provides improved health outcomes. Through these health homes, individual care is coordinated. That just makes sense.  The health home approach translates into better care for fewer healthcare dollars. This is a perfect opportunity to build on a successful model.

Read the AMA Commentary by Dr. Jeremy Lazarus, AMA president, on the benefits of the ACA on healthcare integration.

With our newly upheld Accountable Care Act at the cusp of our nation’s 236th birthday, it’s a perfect time to pull together and focus on building a system that allows us to provide effective services to meet the total healthcare needs of people with behavioral health concerns in this, the land of the free and the home of the (soon t0 be) healthy.