Delivering high-quality integrated healthcare requires constant collaboration and communication among diverse healthcare professionals, which is why it’s often referred to as “interprofessional healthcare.”
This healthcare model also promotes payer-provider integration, incentivizing integrated health and wellness centers to maximize care quality while minimizing cost. Let’s examine how your care team can implement this holistic trend that’s improving health plans and health outcomes, as well as the well-being of patients and healthcare providers across the globe.
What is integrated health?
Integrated health is the delivery of primary care, mental health, and behavioral health services in whole-person care settings. Promoting integrated health to prevent and treat a wide range of conditions in diverse patient populations requires extensive collaboration between an ever-expanding array of specialists. This coordinated care model also promotes payer-provider integration to incentivize high-quality care and cost-cutting in healthcare systems of all sizes.
According to the National Institutes of Health, “Integrated health brings conventional and complementary approaches together in a coordinated way. It emphasizes a holistic, patient-focused approach to healthcare and wellness — often including mental, emotional, functional, spiritual, social, and community aspects — and treating the whole person rather than, for example, one organ system.”
The Collaborative Family Health Association explains that “While there is not a nationally recognized definition of integrated health, our organization uses the term to describe efforts to provide healthcare services that bring together all of the components that make humans healthy.” Health systems across the globe have discovered that integrated health improves outcomes and satisfaction — for both patients and healthcare providers.
Medical care takes on a new dimension when deeper relationships allow patients to entrust primary care clinicians with mental health challenges that require a wide array of behavioral health specialists, complementary healthcare professionals, and community health providers.
According to the Behavioral Health Workforce Research Center, primary care providers deliver nearly half of all mental health and behavioral health care for adults with common psychiatric disorders. This is critical, as mental health issues or substance misuse often lead to higher rates of chronic conditions and earlier deaths — while those same conditions often increase mental health risks.
Why is integrated health important?
Interdisciplinary care models remove care silos to promote high-quality, patient-centered, coordinated, collaborative care that improves health outcomes. Rather than focusing on a single treatment episode or organ function, providers collaborate to build trust and prioritize patients’ overall well-being.
When patients can undergo diagnostic tests, visit primary care physicians, consult with complementary care providers, and even have prescriptions filled all under one roof, health systems streamline care and cut costs. One organization’s hospitalization costs were reduced by approximately half within a year of adopting integrated health.
A health system that embraces payer-provider integration further facilitates healthcare delivery. Acute coronary event patients, for example, can be easily identified and offered closely coordinated follow-up treatment to decrease costly emergency interventions and reduce the risk of death.
When OBGYN providers address what were once considered “nonmedical” mental health issues and social determinants of health, mothers’ and babies’ health outcomes improve. Adopting the integrated health model has enabled physicians to prevent or address comorbidities, bringing the mind-body connection to the center of the health plan design process.
Integrated healthcare models
Members of the Collaborative Family Health Association have pointed out that introducing team-based care in non-integrated settings can raise ethical concerns. Psychologists and physicians, for example, have different ethics codes and training. They’ve produced an ethical guide, which is being considered by the American Psychological Association as they revisit professional ethics codes.
The CFHA has also defined these integrated health models:
Primary Care Behavioral Health
PCBH care models strive to optimize behavioral health within the primary care environment. In this model, Behavioral Health Consultants (BHCs) collaborate with medical providers by working with patients in exam rooms after the physician’s check up. Follow-up visits may be scheduled with whichever provider best addresses a patient’s needs.
BHCs treat mental health conditions — depression, anxiety, ADHD, OCD — as well as physical comorbidities — diabetes, hypertension, dementia, insomnia — improving access to care. Primary care referrals to specialists can be challenging for patients, and BHCs are trained to support medical care team interventions.
Collaborative Care Model
This model impacts the clinical outcomes of patients with depression and other comorbidities of depression — like cardiac conditions and diabetes — in the primary care setting. A consulting psychiatrist and care manager treat and manage patients who’ve been screened for depression while supporting medical providers to ensure they’re providing evidence-based antidepressant prescriptions. The care manager provides behavioral health interventions, tracks care to ensure patients are improving, and engages social services when needed.
Who delivers integrated healthcare?
Effective integrated health requires an expanding array of providers to be flexible and to embrace learning from peers. The AMA publishes case studies of successful collaborations that inspire healthcare professionals who are just beginning to implement integrated health care models.
Integrative Practitioner describes how these diverse providers collaborate to deliver effective, whole-person integrated health:
After learning motivational interviewing skills, primary care providers can more quickly identify behavioral health conditions. As their responsibilities and competencies overlap, these diverse medical providers learn, grow, and adapt while working alongside one another:
- Doctor of Medicine (MD)
- Medical Assistant (MA)
- Nurse Practitioner (NP)
- Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)
- Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
- Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO)
- Naturopathic Doctor/Physician (ND)
- Chiropractor/Doctor of Chiropractic Medicine (DC)
- Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (AP/LAcs)
Behavioral health professionals
When working in integrated health systems, these behavioral health providers assimilate by seeing patients in briefer time periods and with broader concerns than they are used to:
- Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)
- Licensed professional counselor (LPC)
- Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
- Care managers
Community health and wellness centers are aiding integrated health efforts. Peer support counselors provide mental health care, including emotional and logistical support, to ensure they stick with the plan of care. They may accompany patients with disabilities or mental health conditions to physician appointments and share information with the office-based care team.
- Community-based health centers
- Social services sites
- Houses of worship
- Wellness retreats
Integrated healthcare reimbursement
Integrated health at the reimbursement level requires forging more direct collaboration between payers and providers. This takes closely coordinating care planning, commissioning, and delivery. Payer-provider integration incentivizes every type of healthcare system to encourage health professionals to maximize high-quality care while minimizing costs.
When insurance companies work to adopt integrated health and gradually add coverage for more specialties at clinics, hospitals, mental health centers, emergency departments, as well as community health and social service agencies, care is streamlined and health outcomes improve.
How to deliver integrated healthcare
To enjoy the advantages of integrated health in your health system, prioritize the following:
- Integrate providers and payers. Integrated health delivery cannot be effective, seamless, and error-free unless providers and payers are on the same page at all times.
- Integrate patient and clinical pathways. Make your patients partners in their health plan. Ensure you’re keeping lines of communication open and clear between primary care, mental health, behavioral health, and community health so they have a full window into what clinicians are doing and complete confidence that their treatment preferences will be respected.
- Prioritize services. Improve your quality of care by incorporating your patients’ input, prioritizing their goals, and tracking their treatments — keeping them motivated to enhance their well-being will improve their health outcomes.
- Get team buy-in. When your care plan shifts to implement a new treatment or procedure, it’s not only respectful to get everyone on board but also critical to prevent implementation failure.
- Incorporate patient activation tools. Make life easier for patients and healthcare professionals — engage all parties with healthcare technology created specifically for coordinated care.
Because integrated care success requires patient engagement, all healthcare providers and support staff must support integrative health plan implementation to encourage compliance and to empower patients to participate in their own care. It also requires thoughtful payer-provider integration to encourage all stakeholders to prioritize high-quality care and minimize costs.
Informed decisions can’t be made without hyper-communication between all stakeholders — which requires effective tools and resources. With the right technology and optimal patient engagement, integrated health plans lead to better health outcomes for everyone.
How integrated health and wellness technology will enhance your workplace
Leveraging a thoughtfully-designed Care Management software program can help all the health professionals on your team to collaborate seamlessly and efficiently — with one another and with patients. A Care Management platform like Welkin provides an edge over other organizations by enabling more comprehensive coordinated care and patient engagement.
Care coordination is a critical element of integrated health, as it enables inclusive health plans that leverage diverse providers to address the biological, psychological, and social needs of patients and their families. While improving patient care experience and health outcomes, integrated health care coordination will make your health system more efficient — a win-win solution.
To deliver integrated health solutions to your patients, you need technology that’s built with your mission in mind. Discover how one community health program simplified its complex case management and developed a revolutionary care model with our platform.