5 Tips for Integrating Behavioral Health into Primary Care

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Adult depression and alcohol use disorder are serious health conditions that are often under-identified and undiagnosed in primary care settings. Yet these and other behavioral health conditions can significantly impact a person’s health and pose significant challenges for providers as patients transition among care settings.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS) Quality Improvement Organization (QIO) Program, through its national network of Quality Innovation Network (QIN)-QIOs, has actively recruited primary care providers (PCPs) and inpatient psychiatric facilities (IPFs) to integrate behavioral health screening tools that increase instances where depression or alcohol misuse can be appropriately identified.

Below, Archie Hamilton, MA, LPC, Behavioral Health Task Lead for atom Alliance -- the QIN-QIO for Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee -- shares a few lessons learned and tips for helping PCPs successfully integrate behavioral health screenings into their practices:

Tip #1: Identify unique pain points and common threads

Every PCP is different, with unique pain points. Using a short menu of options as the basis for motivational interviewing and active listening, identify specific opportunities and barriers for each practice. This will help uncover issues that are faced by multiple providers.

Tip #2: Make the process quick and easy

Assess readiness in a short, targeted and convenient way to help match each practice with the specific tools and technical support required to spur a successful implementation. Some practices may prefer a phone interview, a hard-copy questionnaire or an online survey.

Tip #3: Keep the workflow smooth and seamless

Examine existing workflows thoroughly. The goal is to integrate behavioral health screenings into the existing workflow and to do so with minimal impact to daily routines.

Tip #4: Drive home the benefits of total person-centered care

Help PCPs understand their vital role in keeping an eye on patients’ behavioral health as part of their overall wellness. Make sure the practices understand that under CMS’ evolving payment models, identifying and addressing patients’ behavioral health conditions not only helps providers define the best treatment plan for patients but enhances provider reimbursements.

Tip #5: Deliver the right resources at the right time and place

Tailor all training materials, formats, access and timing to PCP needs. On-demand webinars, hosted calls and educational events may have to be scheduled outside of traditional business hours. Offering an array of educational and program materials – including scripted talking points for patient interactions and easy-to-access electronic resources and reference guides – will help providers feel comfortable incorporating behavioral health into their practices. To cite one example, atom Alliance currently is creating a small pocket card to clearly break down scoring for patient screenings.

With a target of recruiting 1,000 PCPs and 25 IPFs across atom Alliance’s five-state region, the QIN-QIO garnered participation from more than 1,200 practices and 44 IPFs.