How Integrated Health Programs Can Help You Provide Whole-Person Care

Integrated health is a global trend in the reformation of healthcare. To implement whole-person care, health organizations have begun to focus on offering coordinated care. Let’s explore why this movement is helping improve care for patients—and how you can bring it to your organization.

What is integrated health?

Integrated health combines mental healthcare and primary care in one setting for a broader spectrum of services. This results in a more complete experience and, ultimately, improved health and wellness for patients. When your patients feel they are getting everything they need from your organization, it’s better for you, your clinicians, and your stakeholders, too, as patients won’t feel the need to go somewhere else to fill in missing services or needs.

Mental and physical health often go hand in hand, so it’s not too challenging to execute these offerings. If an organization can provide a one-stop shop for services, there is no reason a patient shouldn’t return to them for their various health needs. In fact, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), primary care settings provide about half of mental health services for the most common psychiatric disorders.

Adults who have serious mental illnesses or substance use disorders tend to have higher rates of chronic physical illnesses and may die earlier than the rest of the population. The NIMH also reports that patients with common physical conditions are at a higher risk of mental health issues.

All aspects of health—including mental, physical, and emotional—should be covered to ensure your patients’ health issues are fully taken care of, no matter their condition. Bringing integrated health to your facility will foster a seamless team-based approach between the various caregivers, medical professionals, and patients themselves, so you can all work together to achieve desired health outcomes.

What integrated health can do that other models cannot

In the existing health system, clinicians may concentrate on a single episode of treatment at a time rather than the holistic view of the patient. This approach can mean patients miss getting medical care for issues or conditions when the clinician doesn’t notice them. With a comprehensive approach, you may be able to improve the efficiency of your team and stop patients’ conditions from slipping through the cracks.

In many instances, the effectiveness made possible by integrated health also helps control costs. Some healthcare organizations have been able to take advantage of their integrated payer and provider functions to facilitate better care for acute coronary event patients. With integrated health, they can easily identify these patients and offer them closely coordinated follow-up treatment. Their program decreases costly emergency interventions and significantly reduces the risk of death.

There are healthcare organizations that integrate healthcare to the point where patients are enabled to consult specialists, nutritionists, and primary care physicians; undergo diagnostic tests; and even have prescriptions filled—all under one roof. Again, this is not only more convenient for patients, as they can expect to get all the care they need in a single place, but a money saver, too. It’s estimated that one organization’s hospitalization costs were reduced by approximately half within a year of adopting integrated health.

Why is integrated health important?

Physicians in the OBGYN space, for one, sometimes feel they are merely scratching the surface of what patients really need and ignoring the “nonmedical” issues that profoundly affect their patients’ health. This has been equated to applying band-aids to gaping wounds. There can, for example, be an expectant mother who is experiencing homelessness, or a pregnant woman struggling with depression.

Without integrated health, social determinants of health and mental and behavioral health issues would typically be rendered areas outside a gynecologist’s concern. Yet, these are factors that might affect the well-being of the patient, as well as that of the baby. Therefore, some physicians have a hard time overlooking them—and understandably so, as they show us how critical it is to address comorbidities. Alternatively, integrated health helps bring these so-called nonmedical issues to the center of the care plan design process.

This approach also simplifies care coordination by removing siloes. Plus, it has the power to help prevent many common medical problems. Undeniably, the comorbidity between physical and mental health disorders is one of the healthcare industry’s greatest challenges today. True integrated care that addresses a whole person—again, both their mental and physical health—is indeed the future of comorbidity prevention and management.

Patients, providers, caregivers, and the healthcare system all stand to benefit from this updated method of formulating healthcare plans. With coordinated care, your organization can reduce depressive symptoms, improve quality of care, enhance access to services, and lower overall costs of care. Integrated health can apply to primary care, long-term care settings, specialized medical settings—such as rehabilitation units, surgical facilities, and cardiology centers—as well as community-based health centers and social services sites.

How to integrate health programs

To realize the many advantages of adopting an integrated health approach at your facility, you will need to prioritize the following:

  • Providers and payers must be integrated. Processes cannot be carried out seamlessly and without error or loss of care quality unless providers and payers are on the same page at all times.
  • Patient and clinical pathways must be integrated. The patient should feel they are a true part of their own care plan. They want to be involved. Ensure you’re keeping lines of communication open and clear, so they have a full window into what clinicians are doing.
  • Determine which services are the most important to include. Not everything should be made a priority. Figure out what’s most important in order to stay organized and keep everyone happy.
  • Get team buy-in. Any time you plan to execute a new process or system, it’s not only respectful to get everyone on board with a new plan, but also crucial to prevent implementation failure.
  • Focus on incorporating patient activation tools. Make life easier for patients, not harder. Help your patients engage in their care by giving them proper health technology.

Because such a large aspect of an integrated care program’s success is patient engagement, all participants—including staff and patients—need to be active and engaged for best results. You simply cannot have a great integrated care plan without active patient involvement. Team members should be working as directly as possible with their patients to develop a strategy.

This will help encourage care plan compliance and empower patients to be active decision-makers in their own care. Be sure to also enable patients to be further engaged by communicating effectively and providing them with the tools and resources they need to make informed choices. With the right technology and proper patient engagement that is fueled by truly integrated health, you and your staff can help patients feel more in control and see better outcomes for everyone.

How the right tools will help you bring integrated health to your workplace

As you learned, integrated health is largely characterized by collaboration and better communication among health professionals. If you opt to use a Patient Relationship Management software program, you won’t have to worry about maintaining a heightened level of communication. A Care Management platform like Welkin will give you an edge over other organizations by offering a more comprehensive care coordination model.

What makes care coordination unique and so much more effective than traditional models is the sharing of information among team members as it relates to the patient’s care. This is a crucial aspect of integrated health, as it establishes an inclusive treatment plan that addresses the biological, social, and psychological needs of an individual. A diverse group of healthcare professionals—including physicians, nurses, psychologists, and beyond—can create a unique integrated care plan that addresses each patient’s specific health needs.

These benefits are twofold: an integrated healthcare experience is better for your patients, which makes it infinitely better for your healthcare organization. Once you implement integrated health, you will be able to provide an elevated degree of care. Patients will not have to go elsewhere for any of their health needs, which will result in stronger patient-provider relationships and higher patient satisfaction rates.

To become a comprehensive integrated health solution, you need a proper health tool. Discover how one community health program simplified its complex case management and developed a revolutionary care model with our platform.

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