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What is Integrated Care and Why Does it Matter?

Integrated Medicine. Coordinated Care. These are terms we are hearing more and more. What do they mean? Why should we care? The answers have to do with the fact that integrated and coordinated care is better for the patient, families and communities. Integrated health care means providers are working more closely together to ensure patients have access to the services and experts they need to help them be healthy physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

There is no denying the connection between the mind and body. A large number of primary care visits in the United States are related to behavioral health needs, and many common medical problems seen in primary care involve poor health habits that may start, continue or worsen the illness or symptoms. Many individuals receiving care for physical health conditions may also require care for behavioral health conditions, and vice versa.

Unfortunately, our health care systems tend to operate independently, without coordination, resulting in gaps in care, inappropriate care and increased costs. Hence, the need for integrated care.

Integrated care is the coordination of general and behavioral health care. It incorporates mental health, primary care, physical lifestyle changes and substance abuse services. Integrated care has many levels of care including screening, preventative, intervention, communication, education and wellness.

Care begins with screening patients for conditions in addition to the ones they present with or come to see a provider for. Questions and screenings for physical conditions should be accompanied by questions and screenings regarding mental health.

These coordinated and integrated services are paramount to the health of the individual. For example, people with mental or substance abuse disorders typically die decades earlier than the average person. Most often, they die from untreated and preventable chronic illnesses.

The Center of Integrated Health Solutions reports:

  • As many as 70 percent of primary care visits are related to behavioral health needs.
  • Sixty-eight percent of adults with mental illness have one or more chronic physical conditions.
  • One in five adults with mental illness also have a substance abuse disorder.

Chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, sleep problems, pain disorders, obesity and asthma are significantly higher in those who have a mental illness. If someone is suffering from depression, they are likely to be experiencing some physical ailments as well.

The solution lies in the systematic coordination of mental health, primary care and substance abuse services. Integrated care is the most effective approach to caring for the whole person, especially those with multiple and complex needs. Integrated care has been shown to reduce emergency room visits, hospital admissions and overall medical costs. That’s because integrated care allows:

  • Improved access to primary care services.
  • Improved prevention, early detection and intervention to reduce the incidence of serious physical illness and chronic disease.
  • Improved screening, detection and intervention of behavioral and substance abuse conditions.
  • Improved overall physical fitness of clients.

Often the physical distance between medical and behavioral health providers can present a barrier to providing coordinated care. This distance can mean decreased communication between physicians, increased time between office visits and treatment, higher costs and ultimately poorer health outcomes for patients.

Fortunately, community health centers, like NACA, Inc. in Flagstaff, are leaders in the co-habitation of physical and behavioral healthcare at the same location. Some community health centers also work to integrate a wellness component into the overall care by providing a place, like NACA’s Wellness Center, that offers nutritional guidance, exercise programs, educational classes and community outreach.

The goal of integrated health care is to deliver patient-centered, culturally sensitive behavioral and physical health assessments, care and interventions to each person. Integrated care means quality care for the body, mind and spirit. FBN


By L. George Hershey, D.O.


  1. George Hershey, D.O., is the medical director and a family practice physician at NACA’s Family Health Center. He joined NACA in 2013, after closing his private practice, which he opened in Flagstaff in 1970. In addition to his role as a family physician, he has served as the team physician for student-athletes at Northern Arizona University since 1971.


NACA embraces a holistic, integrated approach to caring for the whole person. Blending general health and wellness; behavioral health; community services; exercise and nutrition; and support groups results in healthier individuals, families and communities. NACA offers integrated care to all people of all cultural backgrounds. To learn more about the services and programs NACA offers, visit or call 928-773-1245. Stay up to date on new services, events and health topics by following NACA on Facebook.




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