There is no denying the connection between the mind and body. A large number of doctor visits in the United States are related to behavioral health needs, as well as physical needs. Many individuals receiving care for physical health conditions may also require care for behavioral health conditions and vice versa.
Unfortunately, many healthcare services tend to operate independently, without coordination. This silo approach to health care can mean gaps in care, inappropriate care and increased costs. Hence, the need for integrated care that brings providers and services together for the sake of the patient.
Integrated care is the coordination of general (or primary) care and behavioral (or mental) 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 other conditions in addition to the ones they come to see their doctor about and conditions that are present or known. 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 for Integrated Health Solutions reports:
As many as 70% 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 has 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, he or she is 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 cohabitation of physical and behavioral health care 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.
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.
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.
L. 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. To learn more about the services and programs NACA offers, visit NACAInc.org or call 928-773-1245. Stay up-to-date on new services, events and health topics by following NACA on Facebook.