Behavioral Health Drives Population Health

“Treat the patient, not the disease” is a common refrain in medicine. Unfortunately, much of the modern medical infrastructure is centered around treating diseases. Fee-for-service reimbursement, payer contracts, and lack of data sharing contribute to an environment where the only available option is to treat a specific instance of a specific problem rather than treat a patient holistically.

Behavioral health, in particular, has often been viewed apart from patient medical care. With the rise in accountable care organizations and population health-based reimbursement models, behavioral health has acquired new prominence as a key component in achieving population health outcomes.

Behavioral health, substance abuse, chronic conditions, housing and food stability, and other social determinants of health are now viewed by many healthcare professionals as the next frontier in achieving health quality. There is a new understanding of the complex interaction between mental health and medical health, with mental health issues affecting medical outcomes and vice versa.

Studies show that patients with chronic diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and cancer, experience high rates of depression. According to the CDC, more than half of patients with Parkinson’s also experience major depressive disorder, while 42 percent of cancer patients, 27 percent of diabetics, and 17 percent of cardiovascular disease patients also cope with depression.

Despite the growing awareness of the connection between mental health and medical health, barriers still exist to receiving adequate behavioral health treatment:

  1. Even when those with behavioral health issues visit a primary care physician, PCPs often fail to diagnose depression or other mental health issues.
  2. While overall healthcare costs are lower if behavioral health and chronic diseases are treated, other initiatives designed to reduce healthcare costs, such as co-payments and deductibles, act as barriers for patients to receive the appropriate level of mental health and chronic disease medical treatment necessary.
  3. Lack of data integration between mental health and medical health providers creates treatment silos that inhibit coordination of care among providers. This lack of data integration is attributable in part to behavioral health providers being excluded from federal EHR incentive dollars under the ARRA.

We’ve seen a surge of interest in healthcare at the convergence of health and human services. ClientTrack has a long background in improving lives through health and human services, including addressing critical social issues such as homelessness, behavioral health, chronic conditions, and food and economic security.

It’s heartening to see the medical industry, with its vast scope and resources, recognize the critical importance of solving patient life needs along with solving patient health needs. In treating the patient, not the disease, we will achieve better, long-lasting health improvements that make a significant difference in both quality of life and quality of health.

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