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The Trend Toward Integrated Healthcare: Mental and Physical Health

For generations, healthcare professionals were trained to view a patient’s well-being along two different paths. Traditional health went one way and mental health another. The paths were so different that professionals trained to provide treatment to a certain facet of a person’s health. In short, we were siloed. And today, as our healthcare processes and techniques continue to evolve, it is becoming more apparent that these roads are intertwined and our patients’ health in one capacity directly affects their outcomes in the other.

The Trend Toward Integrated Healthcare

National healthcare reform, electronic medical records (EMRs) and legislation supporting mental health parity have brought focus to the importance of integrated healthcare, even going so far as to mandate it in some cases.

This integration can take many forms, with mental health providers assisting patients as licensed counselors or social workers, psychologists and/or, of course, psychiatrists and psychiatric nurses. The integration of mental health professionals into the patient’s care can take place at any stage, but most commonly occurs in the primary care stage.

Stepping Away From the Traditional

The addition of support from a mental health professional early in the process provides a more efficient, accurate diagnosis of mental health challenges a patient may be suffering. This early intervention can improve patient outcomes and lessen expenses for the patient and the facility by reducing days spent in-care and missed work hours from the patient’s job.

In addition to a more efficient identification of existing mental health problems, the addition of mental health professionals early in the process has also been shown to be beneficial in cases where the physical complication has resulted in mental health concerns. The two health strategies have been shown to complement one another and support stronger overall patient care, where one treatment regimen can directly benefit the other.

Matching Roles to Resources

Despite the obvious benefits, many facilities simply lack the mental health professional resources to assign such comprehensive treatment solutions to each patient, and it’s important to point out that this need not be an all-or-nothing scenario.

Many facilities are meeting their patients’ mental health needs through co-located, referral, reverse co-located and collaborative models if a totally integrated model is not possible.

Overcoming the Stigmas of Integration

Of course, the challenges of combining mental and physical health professionals for one unified treatment is not confined solely to bandwidth. Across the country, facilities still deal with obstacles to this merger, including insurance- and payment-related hurdles, unrealistic expectations, privacy and confidentiality concerns, cases of seriously mentally ill individuals requiring advanced treatment and, of course, the general stigma that accompanies cases of mental health too often in our society.

Each and any of these challenges can be a formidable obstacle in their own right, and one facilities can ill afford to ignore. However, if professionals from both lines of care can overcome such objections and meet in the middle, the result will be a better, more rounded care solution for the patients fortunate enough to benefit from their treatment.

Supporting Integrated Care Through EMR

Advancements in EMR were one of the driving forces in bringing mental and physical health professionals together to better treat their patients. And at the same time, an EMR can be a powerful tool to reduce many of the challenges this joint treatment faces. To learn more about how ICANotes can support your EMR initiatives, contact us or request your free trial today.

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