It’s About Time We Integrate The Physical and The Behavioral Health

Somya Gulati
Wed 27 April 2016


Behavioral health (BH) and physical health (PH) services are typically delivered by different providers in separate settings, which often leads to little or no coordination  These providers hardly  communicate, share information, or collaborate to create a shared treatment plan.

This fragmented delivery of care can be particularly problematic for individuals with serious mental illness (SMI) because of their behavioral health needs and their often-significant physical health problems. Unfortunately, most of the primary care doctors are ill equipped or lack the time to fully address the wide range of psychosocial issues that are presented by the patients. The fact that the skillet and the infrastructure needed for the physical and behavioral health, well being is very diverse – makes coexistence tougher.  

70 percent of primary care visits stem from psychosocial issues.

Studies over the past twenty-five years have found correlations between physical and mental health-related problems. Individuals with serious physical health problems often have comorbid mental health problems, and nearly half of those with any mental disorder meet the criteria for two or more disorders, with severity strongly linked to co-morbidity. While patients typically present with a physical health complaint, data suggest that underlying mental health or substance abuse issues have often triggered these visits.

We are all well versed with the fact that Integrating behavioral health and primary care can combat fragmentation and address a lot of burdensome and costly comorbidities. We are aware of the challenges and of the powerful and promising outcomes if we overcome those challenges. Then why aren’t we there yet?  

A lot of initiatives have been taken by the healthcare providers for treatment and care coordination, but none of the initiatives have achieved a seamless digital sharing or integration of health information across disparate providers.

The question remains as to why hasn’t data integration happened faster or been more transformational? Is it the existing regulations that are contributing to a lag in data interoperability or is it the legacy systems that can’t handle the magnitude of data being generated? Is it that the costs involved are prohibitive or is it that the ROI not visible?

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