7 Ways Your Program Can Start Implementing Whole Person Care

The US healthcare system typically siloes specialists away from primary care, making treatment for issues like mental and behavioral health more difficult—and expensive—for patients and providers to access. By moving to a whole person care approach, programs and initiatives can improve care for those they serve while simultaneously making costs significantly cheaper.  

 

SEPARATION OF SPECIALISTS 

More often than not, physical and mental health are intertwinedPhysical issues can and do impact emotional well-being. Take for instance heart attack patients—more than one fifth of total patients go on to experience clinical depression1. Even more shocking, being diagnosed with depression makes heart attack patients three times more likely to have another one.  

Heart attacks are not the only health issue that interact with mental wellness. Anxiety and depression correlate with a variety of issues, including fibromyalgia, headaches, lower back pain, nerve damage, and IBS, just to name a few2.  

These co-occurring conditions, known as comorbidities, can cause severe issues that often go unchecked. Researchers predict just under 20% of all Americans are currently living with comorbidities, but almost none of them receive the same amount of treatment for their mental and behavioral issues as they do their physical ones3. Why is this the case?  

 

A WHOLE PERSON CARE APPROACH 

Many experts believe it is because most healthcare systems are missing a whole person care approach. This means there is a lack of coordination between primary and specialist care4so instead of a concerted effort by professionals, theses physical and behavioral health diagnoses are partitioned, and patients are required to piece them together themselves. Not only can this be mentally and physically exhausting for a patient, it results incostly visits to a primary physician and a mental health specialist, which can quickly add up. 

The good news? It does not have to be this way. 

Integrating whole person care into healthcare initiatives and programs is a lot more accessible than many think. It’s also been proven to be incredibly cost effective. Some estimate that the federal government could save over $40 billion in ten years5, simply by cutting down the number of required visits and streamlining physical and mental healthcare into one place. Coordinated healthcare is also economic for the patient, with many programs reporting a 10% decrease in medical expenses per year, per patient6.  

Many programs across the country have reported success in moving to the whole person care approach. Minnesota hospitals, implementing a program called DIAMOND, assigned care managers to each patient to monitor behavioral health and ensure proper coordination across practitioners7. Doing so greatly increased health outcomes across the board for patients and cut costs by bringing billing under a single code.  

 

7 WAYS YOU CAN MOVE TO COORDINATED CARE 

Getting started on a whole person care system is a lot more straightforward than one might think. Consider these seven tips8 on incorporating coordinated care into your own initiative: 

  1. Start somewhere and start small 
    Whole person care doesn’t happen overnight. Integration takes time and choosing somewhere to start is the first step in improving outcomes and reducing costs.
  2. Know and understand your community
    Learn more about the population your program serves and the unique challenges they face.
  3. Use evidence-based, standardized behavioral health screening tools  
    These screening tools are simple to integrate but can have profound effects. By encouraging primary care physicians to screen for mental health during regular check-ups, behavioral health issues can be caught and diagnosed significantly faster.
  4. Utilize technology to better distribute your resources 
    Technology like telehealth and virtual consults can efficiently bring health services to a wide arrange of patients, particularly those who may face additional challenges in attending a physical office or clinic.
  5. Use case management software to improve collaboration, handoffs, and transitions in care. 
    Case management software, like Eccovia’s ClientTrack, is a crucial piece of whole person care. Tools like ClientTrack help streamline coordination efforts and put important data into a single accessible place.
  6. Help patients use digital tools to manage their conditions 
    Technology is not just for programs, but for the patients they serve. Whole person care needs to involve educating patients on the latest applications and online resources available to them in order to find and utilize available care.
  7. Measure outcomes while still focusing on true transformation 
    Whole person care can best combine health services when gathering data on quantifiable outcomes while still remembering the ultimate purpose in doing so: assisting patients in achieving true transformation.

While these tips are not a comprehensive list, they can serve as a base for coordinating a concerted, cost-effective approach to whole person care. By focusing on implementing services for typically siloed treatments like mental and behavioral health, programs can expect the quality of life for patients to increase while simultaneously decreasing overall costs. 

 

WORKS CITED: 

  1. https://www.thirdway.org/report/treating-the-whole-person-integrating-behavioral-and-physical-health-care    
  2. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/pain-anxiety-and-depression  
  3. https://www.thirdway.org/report/treating-the-whole-person-integrating-behavioral-and-physical-health-care  
  4. https://www.thirdway.org/report/treating-the-whole-person-integrating-behavioral-and-physical-health-care 
  5. https://www.thirdway.org/report/treating-the-whole-person-integrating-behavioral-and-physical-health-care  
  6. https://www.thirdway.org/report/treating-the-whole-person-integrating-behavioral-and-physical-health-care 
  7. http://www.milbank.org/uploads/documents/10430EvolvingCare/10430EvolvingCare.html 
  8. https://www.aha.org/center/emerging-issues/market-insights/behavioral-health-integration/behavioral-health-integration-treating-whole-person  

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