Is Integration the Key to Improving Access and Quality of Mental Health Care?

In any given year, less than half of people diagnosed with a mental illness receive treatment. While this can be attributed to many different circumstances, it is clear that early identification of mental health needs and access to quality services are critical in closing this gap.

One strategy referenced in HCF’s Health Madness tournament this week is the need to identify and integrate mental health into traditional health care settings. Just last week, HCF received Letters of Intent (LOI) for our 2013 Mental Health funding. Of the 73 letters we received, totaling $11 million in funding, I was pleased to see a number of applications that included some level of integration of primary care and behavioral health care services.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), substance use and mental health disorders, taken together, are by far the most frequently diagnosed encounters at health centers, outnumbering hypertension and diabetes. This illustrates the high need for integration across sectors.

An initial level of integration involves screenings in both behavioral health settings and/or primary care settings to provide early identification of mental health and substance use disorders in addition to physical health issues related to chronic diseases.

There are also a number of different primary care and/or behavioral health care integration models that run along a continuum. They can include:

  • Use of care managers
  • Facilitation of communication and coordination between the behavioral health agency and health providers
  • Behavioral health/physician consultants
  • Complete on-site integration with a care team developing a health home for consumers

Integrated care is not easy and has a number of barriers including billing, space, different work cultures in collaborating with other health professionals, sharing patient records, etc.

Yet despite these obstacles, the benefits to the consumer far outweigh the negatives. With integrated physical and mental health, consumers are more involved in their own care and treatment plans and services are more patient-centered, with improved access to quality and evidence-based services.

For More information
More information on integrated care screening tools and specific models can be found online through Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), or The National Council for Behavioral Health, among others.

Integration of health/mental health is one of the prevention strategies competing in the first round of our Wellness Tournament. Voting for round one is open until noon, Sunday, March 24. Don’t forget to vote for Integrate Health/Mental Health (mental health division) if this your top prevention strategy!


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HCF's Local Health Buzz Blog aims to discuss health and health policy issues that impact the uninsured and underserved in our service area. To submit a blog, please contact HCF Communications Officers, Jennifer Sykes, at jsykes@hcfgkc.org.

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