The Importance of Integrating Behavioral Health in Acute Care Settings


Behavioral health integration can increase access to services, reduce stigma, and maximize resources. Across the country, many rural communities are developing integrated primary care-behavioral health practices.

These practices embed behavioral health consultants in primary care teams and provide screenings and ongoing co-management for patients with mood disorders or substance abuse concerns. They also communicate about shared patients through notes in a shared electronic health record.

Integrating Behavioral Health in Acute Care Settings

A patient’s entire health must include behavioural health. Life stressors and crises, mental health illnesses, substance abuse issues, and physical symptoms or health behaviours linked to stress are all included. These ailments frequently coexist or are accompanied by these disorders. They can be crippling and incapacitating, resulting in subpar health results and increased overall spending.

Integrated behavioral health services are increasingly recognized as one of the critical strategies to improve access and increase outcomes for people with chronic or severe mental illness. Integration can also address racial and ethnic disparities in access to and utilization of behavioral health care.

Several organizations are leveraging partnerships to help hospitals integrate behavioral health into their acute care settings. These programs provide expertise and resources, reducing costs for the hospital while delivering superior clinical outcomes for patients.

Partnerships also enable hospitals to focus on their core services, freeing up staff and promoting efficiency and quality outcomes. In turn, the hospital can better manage its overall budget.

Moreover, integration can reduce the stigma associated with seeking behavioral health care. This can be especially helpful in rural communities, where the lack of access to community-based behavioral health services can impede the efforts to prevent and treat opioid abuse.

In addition, integrated practices can benefit from increased utilization of telehealth and improved collaboration with community-based providers. This can also increase access to specialized behavioral health treatment.

While some health systems and practices like Sam Lee Prospect Medical already have internal teams comprising behavioral health providers, many still need to. Bringing in a partner who can help the team develop and expand its behavioral health practice can be a valuable way to achieve better outcomes while increasing staff satisfaction and retention.

Several health systems, primary care specialties, and hospitals have successfully implemented internal teams with diverse behavioral health providers. These providers range from licensed mental health practitioners to nurse navigators and care coordinators. Primary care and behavioral health clinicians work together in these settings to deliver integrated care for the whole person, including patients with complex care needs.

Behavioral Health Integration in Acute Care Settings

Behavioral health is a broad umbrella term that includes mental health and substance use disorders, life stressors and crises, and stress-related physical symptoms. These conditions often impact medical illnesses and increase the need for medical services, such as medication management, psychiatric treatment, and other specialty care.

The importance of integrating behavioral health into  is well-established. It is vital to improve access to services, reduce the stigma associated with seeking behavioral health care, and increase the quality of care for all patients.

To make this transition work, practices must have the infrastructure to support integration and a comprehensive plan to ensure a successful, sustainable approach to care delivery. They should also consider how they will train staff to integrate behavioral health into their practice workflows.

In many cases, practices must build relationships with providers at other hospitals, community health centers, and behavioral health providers to partner with them effectively. They may need to provide staff training, develop a process for transferring trust between the primary care and behavioral health provider, and establish a communication plan to ensure that all care team members work consistently.

There are a variety of service integration models, each with unique characteristics. The most common model is the Primary Care Behavioral Health Model (PCBH), which embeds a licensed behavioral health professional in the primary care team to provide a range of integrated services. The model is known for its population-based, interdisciplinary approach to patient care and its ability to generate cost savings by reducing the number of visits to behavioral health services.

Another standard model is the Collaborative Care Model, in which a behavioral health professional works with a primary care provider to offer an integrated approach to care. The behavioral health professional provides prevention, early identification, intervention strategies, treatment for behavioral conditions, and chronic care management.

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