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Integrating primary care and behavioral health offers opportunities

Integrating primary care and behavioral health not only makes sense for patients, it reduces healthcare costs, but it has to go both ways - behavioral health into primary care and primary care into behavioral health - to be most effective, said Kathleen Reynolds, project director, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration-Health Resources and Services Administration, Center for Integrated Health Solutions.

The importance of integrating behavioral health and primary care was the focus of a session lead by Reynolds during the Maine Primary Care Association’s annual conference last week.

[See also: Integrating primary and behavioral care.]

There are models across the country to follow – organizations that are beginning to integrate or have integrated, she pointed out. If organizations are concerned about integrating, they can look to programs such as the one involving several clinics in Washtenaw County, Mich., where they found that over the course of four years, their return on investment included substantially reduced losses.

The folks at the clinics in Washtenaw County were worried that be integrating primary care and behavioral health they would get more patients and it would cost more money. They did get more patients, Reynolds said, but they found their losses went down because the patients got healthier. “They found that the cost savings accrued on the medical side, not the behavioral side,” Reynolds said.

Other benefits of the integration included the elimination of a waiting list for mental health services in the county.

Primary care and behavioral health, Reynolds said, is a solid investment and an incredible opportunity.

Follow HFN associate editor Stephanie Bouchard on Twitter @SBouchardHFN.


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