Digitizing Behavioral Health Programs

An article published by BMC Public Health in March 2019 revealed that comorbidities of behavioral disorders and chronic physical diseases are on the rise. There are millions of patients in the United States with complex health needs that simply cannot be supported by traditional care processes. Physical and mental illnesses are not mutually exclusive, and their codependence presents unique challenges in healthcare.

Enter: behavioral health integration. To properly address each of an individual’s conditions, they can’t be treated separately as if they aren’t affecting each other (because they are). Behavioral healthcare models encourage providers to take a holistic approach to Care Management and tailor care plans to patients’ individual needs.

This may sound like an extremely resource-consuming venture, but it doesn’t have to be. With the right tools and management systems, your healthcare organization can be providing a higher quality of care for a fraction of the cost and manpower. Have we gotten your attention yet?

Why behavioral health management is important

Before we explain why behavioral health management is important, let’s review the definition of behavioral health.

According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, behavioral health “encompasses behavioral factors in chronic illness care, care of physical symptoms associated with stress rather than diseases, and health behaviors, as well as mental health and substance abuse conditions and diagnoses.”

While behavioral health is sometimes used interchangeably with mental health, the integration of behavioral health goes beyond caring for patients with mental conditions or substance misuse disorders. Behavioral health providers do address such conditions, but they also take a holistic view of each person and consider other factors that could be affecting their overall well-being—such as stress-induced physical symptoms, chronic medical illnesses and their long-term effects on the body, and social determinants of health.

Learning about the external factors that could be contributing to different conditions allows behavioral health clinicians to provide Whole Person Care.

Whole Person Care

Whole Person Care is a patient-centered approach to care that takes an individual’s full spectrum of needs into consideration—including their medical disorders, behavioral health conditions, and socioeconomic status. This concept is especially important in treating patients with complex needs, such as those who struggle with chronic homelessness, mental conditions, and/or substance misuse disorders.

Rather than siloing their conditions, treating an individual as a whole can help healthcare clinicians provide tailored support that gives patients the best possible chance of leading a healthy life. Integrated Whole Person Care not only benefits the patient but ensures that healthcare providers are not wasting resources by offering services that a patient is already utilizing elsewhere.

How digital tools can help you manage behavioral health

In order to fully integrate behavioral health and properly treat an individual’s mental and physical conditions, patients must be engaged in their own care. And when healthcare organizations are managing a variety of different conditions and illnesses, it can be difficult to give each patient the undivided attention and Whole Person Care they deserve.

But don’t throw in the towel just yet! Digital tools can help you manage patients and provide world-class behavioral healthcare.

With an integrated management tool, you can spend less time with technology and more time with your patients. Automated systems allow you to streamline your services without sacrificing the high-quality care your patients expect and deserve.

More Americans are dealing with mental conditions and substance misuse disorders than ever before. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported that an estimated 46.6 million adults aged 18 or older had a mental illness in 2017—that’s 18.9% of adults in the United States. In 2020, mental health and substance use disorder treatment spending from all public and private sources is expected to total $280.5 billion.

Mental illnesses and substance misuse disorders account for a massive portion of U.S. healthcare costs. It’s crucial that healthcare providers begin integrating behavioral health into their care protocols to account for this ever-growing population. With the help of digital tools and practices—such as telehealth and virtual appointments—patients have more access to quality care than ever before.

Telehealth services

For patients living in rural areas, this can mean receiving quality, patient-centered care for the first time in their lives. Or perhaps a patient with depression who is struggling to bring themselves to a doctor’s office for in-person appointments can meet with their therapist or primary care physician virtually.

Telehealth gives healthcare providers the ability to meet patients where they are and check in regularly. Digital healthcare tools engage patients and collect data so that providers are better equipped to deliver customized care.

Which behavioral health tools to use

It can be overwhelming to decide exactly which behavioral health tools to use when you are looking to implement systematic changes to your healthcare organization’s Care Management. But before you even consider digital management tools, you need to see what could be improved in your current healthcare protocols.

The Organizational Assessment Toolkit for primary and behavioral healthcare Integration (OATI) from SAMHSA provides 4 self-assessment tools that will assess your organization’s readiness for integration and identify any gaps in your current care plan.

This toolkit covers every step of the care process—including partnerships, customer experience, administrative practices, and clinical policies. Based on the outcome of each self-assessment, you will be able to identify the type of care your organization is able to give and the optimal degree of care you’d like to provide.

From there, you can outline a plan to implement full behavioral health integration. A part of this plan can include digital solutions, such as virtual coaching platforms and Patient Relationship Management software. Supporting a range of programs (from coaching to clinical intervention) will help you provide proper Whole Person Care—no matter the patient’s specific needs.

Transform your behavioral healthcare management

With the industry’s focus on patient-centered care, the Whole Person Care model just makes sense. Implementing complete behavioral health integration will save your healthcare organization’s resources (positively impacting your bottom line), provide guidelines for staff members so they can deliver patient-tailored care, and improve your patients’ overall well-being so they can live healthier, happier lives.

Could a digital tool aid your behavioral health integration? Learn how Face It TOGETHER—a disruptive social enterprise working to end the chronic disease of drug and alcohol addiction—was able to innovate its addiction care to support members combatting alcohol and drug disorders using Welkin’s customizable Patient Relationship Management tool.

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