behavioral health primary care integration · healthcare integration

Integrating Behavioral Health and Primary Care Services: Checklist for Developing the Plan

You have decided on the model that best meets the needs of your partnership and community (click here for Choosing the Right Model for Your Integrated Healthcare Services) and you’re ready to move forward to the next stage. The planning stage is preparation for implementing services and can be divided into three parts: clinical, financial, and operational.

This guide can serve as a checklist for partners to use in preparing for service delivery.


The planning should include a detailed account of the service array to be provided, to include the following:

  • Identification of the targeted recipients of the services
  • Determine the specific services to be delivered and by whom
  • What clinical tools will be used?


Prepare a detailed account of the codes that are to be billed, including which partner will bill for each service. Other important topics include:

  • A determination of how labs and prescriptions will be processed. Typically, CHCs have access to better rates for each. Careful planning allows for maximizing billing opportunities.
  • Who will operate the patient assistance program? How will it be managed?


Entering into a partnership affects every aspect of the organization: clinical, support, administrative, IT, etc. Successfully navigating change cannot be accomplished without staff buy-in: they will be the ones primarily responsible for implementation. Therefore it is vital to involve employees from each of the organizations in the planning process.

Don’t forget that communication is a key element. Transparency is necessary from the onset. Identify champions from various levels within the organizations to assist with the detailed planning. Create implementation teams with staff from each organization for early face-to-face interaction.

Include the following in your planning:

  • The physical space: Careful thought must be put into this and MUST include both partners. It’s common for new projects to be housed in existing empty offices, frequently in out-of-the-way locations. This, however, is not the correct approach for healthcare integration. The physical space is extremely important and requires careful consideration in ensuring that the imbedded staff do not work in isolation but are able to interact with others frequently. Shared space allows the relationships to develop, fostering the sense of being a team. Frequent passing in the hallways allows for hallway consults, facilitation the collaborative approach.
  • Compliance: Regulatory requirements of JCAHO, CARF, etc. It is very important to understand and respect your partner’s requirements.
  • Liability insurance: Depending on the type of partnership, coverage will vary. It’s important to review requirements to ensure appropriate coverage.
  • Process mapping: This a vital component and must include input from clinical and administrative staff.
  • Workflow: Focusing on the experience of the patient/client is important for success.

Also, the following are very important to consider:

  • What clinical, financial, and operational outcomes are expected?
  • How will clinical, financial, and operational outcomes be tracked and measured?

It cannot be emphasized enough that this process cannot be successfully completed by a small group of executive staff. Successful change requires the involvement of all stakeholders.

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.


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

Outcome Measures in the Behavioral Health – Primary Care Integration Partnership

It is all well and good to say that the integration of behavioral health and primary care is beneficial, even vital, to the improvement of health outcomes for people who have a serious mental illness.  However, unless we are able to provide evidence of such, it remains merely speculation. But how can we provide evidence?

Measuring Outcomes

Tracking outcomes allows for determining whether the healthcare interventions are effective. It is particularly important to screen for the following and routinely track as indicated:

  1. Body-mass index (BMI)
  2. Blood pressure
  3. Hemoglobin A1c
  4. Hyperglycemia
  5. Hyperlipidemia
  6. Family history of diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease
  7. Tobacco use history
  8. Depression
  9. Substance use
  10. Other areas as indicated

There are many screening tools and diagnostic labs that allow for screening many of the above. Ideally, these will be conducted on the initial visit to provide a baseline. Subsequent visits can focus on the areas that were identified a need and allows for tracking effectiveness of treatments.

These measurements provide an objective method of tracking response to treatment. This information is invaluable not only for treatment planning for the individual patient, but also provides data to demonstrate the effectiveness of the healthcare providers.

Demonstrating Treatment Efficacy

Electronic Health Records allow for the efficient gathering and reporting of outcomes. This data may be used as evidence of treatment efficacy, which is necessary for securing and maintaining funding (which is, of course, necessary for staying in business).  This example is from a report from a behavioral health and primary care integration team that highlights the six month outcomes from 295 people served (click here for details):  Behavioral Health – Primary Care Integration Outcomes.

In a similar collaborative effort between a community behavioral health organization and a private disease management initiative, the outcomes indicate a positive correlation between integrated efforts and follow up with health screenings (click here for details): Community Behavioral Health – Private Disease Management Collaboration Outcomes.

These two examples provide evidence of the effectiveness of behavioral health and primary care integration efforts to impact the health outcomes of people with serious behavioral health disorders.

Routine collection and reporting of data provides ongoing feedback to the team. The data allows for:

  1. Reassurance of effectiveness of methods for team members
  2. Evidence of efficacy for regulatory and funding organizations
  3. Timely identification of areas requiring calibration for increased effectiveness
  4. Potential and current patients/clients can make an informed decisions in choosing healthcare providers
behavioral health integration

Behavioral Health – Primary Care Integration Partnerships: Measure Outcomes


The value of shared outcomes
It should be no surprise to either behavioral health nor primary care partner that measuring outcomes is important. Each organization has a number of metrics that are tracked routinely.  Measuring outcomes of the integrated partnership are just as important. These outcomes should be jointly agreed upon early in the project. Periodic re-evaluation of the outcomes is beneficial to assuring that they remain relevant to each partner. Be prepared to modify as needed.

Identifying outcomes to be measured and faithfully tracking them provides the necessary data for the organizations’ decision makers. The data serves to demonstrate the effectiveness to others as well as for use in securing additional funding in the future.  Outcome measures need not be expensive or overly complicated. The important thing is to be consistent.

Measuring the benefits of the partnership 
The integrated behavioral – health primary care partnership is far greater than the sum of its parts. The synergistic effect of the partnership results in enhancing the lives of the individuals served to a degree that cannot be matched by either organization alone. Treating the hypertension of a person who also suffers from schizophrenia has a far greater impact that in treating either of the comorbid disorders separately. Measuring the outcomes clearly demonstrates the value of the partnership and the significant impact on the life of the individuals served. While most healthcare professionals are driven by the day to day intrinsic value of helping, successes identified in objective reports serve as further motivation to dedicated members of the team.

There is a clear benefit in having fewer services that must be duplicated when the behavioral health and the primary care is provided separately. When exams and diagnostic tests are done by one provider, there is considerable cost savings. Tracking these savings will demonstrate the added value of the partnership.

Quality of life and client satisfaction surveys are effective ways of determining the value that is provided through the collaborative approach to treatment.

It is not enough to feel that you are doing a good job when it comes to demonstrating success. Through measuring the value of services provided in an integrated behavioral health – primary care partnership, the value of the partnership can be indicated in undisputable terms.

This is the last in the series of steps for a successful behavioral health – primary care partnership. These eight steps have been 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/June1998. Vol. 18 . No. 3:

  1. Establishing the Mission of the Partnership
  2. Identifying a Common Language
  3. Maintain Pacing, Flexibility, and Capacity
  4. The Value of Shared Solutions
  5. Determining Expectations
  6. Delegate Trust
  7. Create Empowerment
  8. Measure Outcomes