OUTCOMES: The Fourth Key Component of a Successful Behavioral Health and Primary Care Marriage

With individuals who suffer from serious mental illnesses dying 25 years prematurely on average, behavioral health and primary care have been mandated to address this health disparity. More effective protocols are in order and must be initiated immediately. This is a matter of life and death.

The Behavioral Health and Primary Care Marriage is a viable solution.

Growing Old Together

To recap, for behavioral health and primary care marriages to be effective, there are four components that are necessary. Vision, Communication, and Compromise have been explored in previous posts. The final component, derived from the first three, is Outcomes. This element builds and maintains the mature partnership for growing old together.

The Whole is Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts

The Behavioral Health – Primary Care Marriage, at its best, is an entity so much more than just two collaborating organizations. The synergistic effect of the partnering of two organizations has the ability to surpass what either can accomplish alone. The community behavioral health organization has expertise in treating complex behavioral health disorders but does not address the primary care needs of individuals. The primary care organization excels at treating a myriad of health conditions including mild behavioral health disorders but does not have the expertise to address serious mental illness or substance use disorders.

The marriage of behavioral health and primary care serves as a means of connecting the head and the body; it may be thought of as the neck of healthcare. The neck allows the best of both worlds to work together in unison, becoming far greater than either can be alone.

Enhanced Outcomes through Blending of Resources

Measuring outcomes provides evidence of the value of the partnership. Through building on the expertise of each, the blended resources result in enhanced outcomes. For example, the University of Washington’s IMPACT Evidence-based Depression Care has impressive results in improved outcomes with significant cost reduction through collaborative care.

The marriage thrives with ongoing feedback, allowing for calibration to ensure that services are effective and financially sustainable. To provide a comprehensive overview, it is recommended that individual health outcome indicators, service outcome indicators, and outcomes data for decision making are included in the repertoire of data collected for analysis and sharing. Implement a system of collecting the indicators at the onset of the partnership. The indicators must be meaningful to both partners. The National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors has a very useful report for guiding the process, Measurement of Health Status for People with Serious Mental Illness.

Accountability

Frequent, regular intervals of sharing results with the team establish a sense of accountability that builds the foundation for longevity. Both partners have responsibility to the partnership and to producing positive outcomes.

By following the Four Key Components for a Successful Behavioral Health and Primary Care Marriage, the partnership will live happily ever after.

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COMMUNICATION: The Second Key Component of a Successful Behavioral Health – Primary Care Marriage

The next key component of a successful Behavioral Health – Primary Care Marriage focuses on Communication.

Early Phase: THE HONEYMOON

In the early days of the partnership, the Honeymoon phase, there is a distinct tendency toward assuming that both partners are speaking the same language and are working toward the same goals. The excitement of the new endeavor and the synergy created initially helps to move things along at a rapid pace. When the behavioral health partner talks about workflow and scheduling appointments, there is little thought given to the fact that these two concepts have VERY different meanings for the primary care provider. It is important to have a thorough review of operations from both perspectives and to find a viable middle-ground that both partners find acceptable. Making open, frequent communication a priority from the onset will prevent problems later on.  This should include a thorough overview of each organization’s regulatory, financial, and operational processes as well as overall mission. Don’t assume that the two partners really understand how each other’s organization functions.

Problems within the Partnership (AKA THE HONEYMOON IS OVER!)

If the partners neglect to develop an open culture of communication on the front end, it is likely that miscommunication will develop.

The Honeymoon phase is in jeopardy.

The entrepreneurial partner fails to understand the ongoing delays from the partner with the extensive bureaucratic approval process that prevents a quick turnaround of virtually everything. As misunderstandings develop into disappointments and resentments, the previous harmony is disrupted.

The Honeymoon is over.

Internal conflicts must be addressed immediately with candor. This is a good time to have an open conversation about all the aforementioned points and develop a plan for ongoing, frequent communication. Concerns about the great divide over productivity targets, outcome measures, and caseloads must be openly discussed, among other important points of contention.

By devoting the necessary focus on the importance of Communication, the partnership will successfully transition to the third key component for a successful behavioral health – primary care marriage, Compromise. The shared mission to reduce health disparities for the individuals served who suffer from comorbid behavioral health and medical conditions will persevere.

However, failure to make this transition may very well land this promising partnership into divorce court.

VISION: The First Key Component of a Successful Behavioral Health and Primary Care Marriage

Every relationship follows a similar pattern. The early phase begins with the selection of a partner. The same holds true for the integrated behavioral health and primary care partnership. It may begin with running into each other at a meeting. Or perhaps while reading the lastest report on the emerging trend of healthcare integration, Accountable Care Organizations, health homes, etc…

The Vision begins to form                          

The behavioral health and primary care clinics enter into the dating relationship when the leaders of each, who have mutual admiration for each other, begin to recognize the potential of doing business together. One leader calls the other, suggesting they get together for lunch. It’s only lunch, he rationalizes to himself, it doesn’t mean anything…there’s no harm just in talking….

One thing leads to another during the wooing and courting phase; soon the idea transitions and the outline of a plan begins to emerge. The two leaders have entered the early stages of the partnership. The Vision is being created, becoming a driving force for each.

The two organizations soon find themselves having serious discussions about forming a partnership. How did THIS happen?? The proposal is followed with a flurry of planning. There are so many details! Attorneys are kept busy creating a business plan and reviewing financial and regulatory documents, planning for the wedding of two organizations. Decisions must be made of how the assets are to be shared. Finances are sorted, MOUs are signed, and the partnership is official.

The marriage of behavioral health and primary care creates a unique entity that is far greater together than either had, or could have been, alone.

The early stage of the partnership is filled with excitement as the Vision takes shape and becomes reality. The shared vision is driven by the passion to become what neither can achieve alone. The specialty behavioral health provider and the primary care provider have integrated, raising the bar of healthcare for people with behavioral health disorders.

This marriage of healthcare providers is based on a Vision shared by two of eliminating the health disparities of people who suffer from serious mental illness and substance use disorders.

Next time we will explore the second key component of a successful behavioral health and primary care marriage:  Communication.