Affordable Care Act · behavioral health integration · healthcare integration · mental health

The Role of Integrated Care in Mental Health: Mental Health Blog Day 2013

Blog for MH 2013

I’m happy to be participating in blogging for mental health today. I’m joining in on this year’s blog party because mental health awareness is so important. Each mental health blogger has a unique perspective, addressing important topics such as awareness, recovery, wellness, public policy, services, co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders, etc., providing a personal, professional, or business perspective – or any combination of the three. These interesting and informative mental health blogs will provide an abundance of good reading for blog connoisseurs today!

Integrated care, a whole-health approach to healthcare, plays a very important role in mental health. This perspective has been gaining more and more attention over the past decade or so. It is not uncommon for people who receive mental health treatment to have little or no coordination of services with their primary care provider. Conversely, many people seeking primary care services have unmet mental health and/or substance use disorder treatment needs. This lack of coordination frequently results in sub-par outcomes, yet is often much more expensive as a result of duplicate or counter-indicated procedures and treatment. Lack of coordination results in costly emergency department visits, providing episodic treatment rather than a much more effective chronic care regimen and focus on prevention.

In my last post, I suggested that Integrated Care Awareness Day be recognized during Mental Health Month. As we increase awareness of the need to focus on healthcare in a holistic way, we begin to change the perception of mental health, not only for healthcare providers and policy-makers, but also for the public at large. Through improving access to services, controlling healthcare costs, and through tracking and improving health outcomes, we as a society can transition toward a wellness approach in healthcare.

Access to Services

Stigma is a huge barrier to receiving mental health services. Integrated care allows people to access services through mental health providers or primary care providers. They have the choice to receive mental health services where they are most comfortable.

Controlling Healthcare Costs

Coordination of care and focus on prevention help to control overall healthcare spending. The Affordable Care Act has provided the opportunity for changing the way that healthcare is delivered. Medicaid Health Homes are an example of this.

Improving Health Outcomes

Making use of health information technology enables providers to track outcomes, develop disease registries, and to share information for enhancing the coordination of care. As a result, people have improved health outcomes. They are healthier.

I hope you will stop by again soon. The next several posts to come will be a Thought Leader Series, a conversation with the visionary leaders who are instrumental in developing integrated care through research, policy, practice, and their steadfast passion for improving the lives of so many.

Happy Mental Health Blog Day 2013!

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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.

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

Yours, Mine, and Ours: Workforce and Healthcare Integration

A company’s greatest asset is its workforce. The employees are the lifeblood of organizations, as I’m sure most leaders would agree. Therefore, paying close attention to keeping your employees informed and engaged when entering into an integrated behavioral health and primary care partnership is crucial for success. And the sooner, the better.

Sibling Rivalry

Like blended families, the integration of two organizations brings up some fundamental concerns among the employees. Concerns over job security, roles, and change in general are paramount. Your employees will be working with the employees from the partner company and will not likely develop into a cohesive team immediately. Additional challenges are introduced with the unique role of the employees who are hired jointly by the partners. The uncertainty and anxiety are sure to result in sibling rivalry among employees. Sibling rivalry is characterized by a jealousy that develops between employees, much the same as it does among siblings. This, of course, impedes teamwork, especially if some members of the team are granted a superior status. This  sometimes happens when the integration efforts are held out as being a special or top-priority project. While it’s not possible to eliminate all anxiety, it’s possible to avoid sibling rivalry among your, my, and our employees and to allow them to transition into a unified team.

Healthcare integration is in its infancy and trained workforce is sparse. However, it is not necessary to hire new employees for your enhanced services. Providing training for employees, ongoing thorough and consistent communication, coupled with reassurance on the front end will go a long way toward successful integration of the employees, and are key to success. The following guidelines will help to promote a close-knit and committed integrated team:

  • Communicate an overview of the vision of the partnership followed with frequent status updates. This also helps your team develop a sense of buy-in to the mission.
  • Provide each team member with a clear understanding of his or her role and how it fits into the whole.
  • Provide ample training for all team members to ensure that they are well prepared for healthcare integration.
  • Building trust among employees is vital for effective teamwork. Frequent opportunities for face-to-face interaction are important for developing a sense of camaraderie.
  • Champions within the organization play a large role in the success of projects. Recognize them (they are in all levels of the organization, just look for them) and allow them to take on leadership roles.
  • As with all new endeavors, solicit feedback from your team. By providing an environment that values candor, early missteps are quickly corrected and creative ideas are put to use for long-term success.
  • It’s important to recognize that some people belong on the bus but are just in the wrong seats. Keep an eye out for employees who are on board with the mission but struggling with their current role(s). These employees are keepers and should be placed in roles that emphasize their strengths.
  • And vital to a successful team, it’s important to acknowledge when an employee is neither prepared nor motivated for the adjustment in the mission and must seek professional fulfillment elsewhere.

What would you add to this list?

For successful healthcare integration, focused attention to your workforce can quickly transition “yours, mine, and ours” to an effective integrated team.

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

No Margin No Mission: Sustainability in Behavioral Health – Primary Care Integration

Of the many challenges in integrating behavioral health and primary care services, the one that garners the most apprehension and concern is sustainability. It is also the most frequent reason for hesitation in moving forward. Healthcare is not set up to address this. Primary care and behavioral health have different billing codes with no easily decipherable means of venturing outside the confines to include payment for integrated services. The mere thought of the process required to begin to tear down the barriers separating the two worlds strikes fear in the hearts of the most courageous administrators.

Healthcare administrators are presented with conflicting demands and are struggling to reconcile the next step. They can:

  1. Ignore the ever increasing focus on healthcare integration and hope it is just another passing fad; or
  2. Place even more burden on the ever-shrinking budgets and hope for the best.

Let’s take a closer look at the options:

Ignoring healthcare integration seems like the easiest solution. Administrators can align themselves with like-minded peers creating a support group who reinforces the notion that it will all just fade away if they merely wait it out. This group gets considerable pleasure in observing the early adopters from a distance, filled with certainty that they are all making huge mistakes. They pat themselves on the back encouragingly as they watch their naïve peers make the occasional fumble, while attributing any successes to sheer (unsustainable) luck.

Over-burdening the current budget seems to be irresponsible. Behavioral health administrators have been faced with budget cuts in unprecedented amounts over the past few years. While they have either become masters at doing more with less or have chosen to leave the field entirely, taking on a new business-line during the increasing uncertainty of their organizations’ financial states seems to be overly risky and counterintuitive.

Yet the pressure is on.

Nationally, more and more behavioral health conferences are featuring healthcare integration tracks. The same is becoming true of primary care conferences and conventions as well. With more and more research and reports being released that provide the necessary data to support the need for integration, it’s becoming more and more difficult to write it off as a passing fad. The recent report from the SAMHSA-sponsored, National Survey on Drug Use and Health, Physical Health Conditions among Adults with Mental Illnesses provides further evidence supporting earlier reports demonstrating the need for integration.

The current model of providing behavioral healthcare may be on its way to becoming obsolete. Now is the time for behavioral healthcare administrators to begin the discussion of how to address the whole-health needs of the people they serve. Whether through collaborative partnership agreements, bi-directional integration, or full integration, this issue can no longer be ignored. There are many changes that can be implemented right away (focusing on billing codes and maximizing billing opportunities) while others will require advocating changes at the state and federal level. (Click here for helpful billing tools created by the SAMHSA-HRSA Center for Integrated Health Solutions.) Daunting though this may seem, the climate is right for these discussions with your state Medicaid and behavioral health offices. They are faced with the task of making the necessary changes to move into the new era of healthcare integration. Strategically, it’s far better to be a part of discussions on creating this new structure than to have it imposed on your organizations. The Georgia Association of Community Services Boards has partnered with the Carter Center to create a forum for change in Georgia via their Integrative Healthcare Learning Collaborative. Not only have they included the public behavioral health providers and their primary care partners, they also have representation from the Georgia Primary Care Association and area medical schools.  They recognize that in order to develop sustainable programs everyone must be at the table.

What are your strategies for sustaining healthcare integration?
I’d love to hear from you. Please enter your comments/suggestions/ideas below or email: behavioralhealthintegration@gmail.com.

Let’s not lose sight of the goal: we must work together to make a difference in improving health outcomes of the people we serve. We CAN ensure that the margin is there to continue the mission. Be a part of the solution!

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

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.

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

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.

behavioral health integration

Behavioral Health – Primary Care Integration: Choosing a Model

Which Models Work Best?

There are several model programs for behavioral health and primary care integration in the United States that are currently demonstrating outstanding results, such as Cherokee Health Systems, Intermountain Healthcare, and Washtenaw Community Health Organization. However, to quote Dale Jarvis, of Dale Jarvis and Associates, a national consultant specializing in payment and reimbursement system redesign, financial modeling, and business systems design for healthcare purchasers and providers: “All healthcare is local.”  Behavioral health – primary care partnerships can learn much from the model programs but will need modification to meet the unique needs of their communities. A model that is successful in a rural community may not be effective in an urban setting. State regulations greatly impact the success of various models as well, especially if the model relies heavily on funding sources that may have significant differences from state to state.

The promotion of  behavioral health and primary care integration has been identified nationally as holding promise for improved health outcomes and increased efficiency in the use of healthcare dollars. The United States Department of Health and Human Services, (HHS)  is funding 56 Primary and Behavioral Healthcare Integration (PBHCI) projects in an attempt to identify effective means of integrating healthcare. HHS, in collaboration with the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE), seeks to answer three questions about the integration of primary and behavioral healthcare, as noted in this excerpt from the 10/21/10 SAMHSA webinar, Primary and Behavioral Healthcare Integration by Trina Dutta:

  1. Outcome Evaluation: Does the integration of primary and behavioral health care lead to improvements in the behavioral and physical health of the population with serious mental illness (SMI) and/or substance use disorders served by the grantees’ integration models?
  2. Process Evaluation: Is it possible to integrate the services provided by primary care providers and community-based behavioral health agencies (i.e., what are the different structural and clinical approaches to integration being implemented)?
  3. Model Evaluation: Which models and/or respective model features of integrated primary and behavioral health care lead to better mental and physical health outcomes?

(Contractor: RAND Corporation)

In a collaborative effort between the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) a training and technical assistance center, the Center for Integrated Health Solutions, is available for PBHCI grantees and other organizations that are integrating behavioral health and primary care services. The Center for Integrated Health Solutions is a division of the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare.