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New Physician Collaboration Aims to Accelerate Behavioral Health Integration

Responding to limited access to mental health care in a time of acute psychological distress and trauma, a new physician collaboration has formed to promote the integration of behavioral and mental health care into overall health care. Led by several of the nation’s leading physician organizations, the Behavioral Health Integration (BHI) Collaborative will help make behavioral health more accessible by providing best-in-class support to physicians working to combine mental and physical health services in their medical practices.

Established and supported by the American Medical Association (AMA), the BHI Collaborative includes the collective expertise of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American College of Physicians, American Osteopathic Association, and American Psychiatric Association.

Incorporating mental health services with primary care or overall medical care improves the quality of care and expands access to behavioral health services, but optimal integration remains limited by cultural and financial barriers according to a RAND Corporation study conducted in collaboration with the AMA.

“Without a clear roadmap for success, integrating mental and physical health services has been a challenge for medical practices," says AMA Immediate Past President Patrice Harris, MD, MA. "The AMA is committed to accessible and equitable treatment for behavioral, mental, and physical health needs, and the BHI Collaborative will provide physicians with a proven playbook for implementing a holistic approach to physical, mental, and behavioral health to meet the needs of all patients.”

To guide physicians through the barriers to successful behavioral and mental health integration, the BHI Collaborative is building an online compendium that will offer the collective resources of eight national physician organizations. The compendium will be a one-stop online collection for physician-tested resources that provide a proven pathway for delivering behavioral and mental health care in a primary care setting.

As the compendium grows, it will be supported by free access to online webinar programming, remote learning opportunities, and other resources with key steps, best practices, and tools to accelerate behavioral health integration, including fostering collaborative cultures and strong patient engagement, supporting accurate billing and coding, and integrating telehealth into practice.

The mental health toll of the coronavirus pandemic continues to grow as Americans confront stress, isolation, and traumatization. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey, more than one-half of Americans feel their mental health has deteriorated during the pandemic, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found the impact has disproportionately been felt by Black and Hispanic communities across the country.

For medical practices looking to accelerate behavioral health integration as quickly as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic, the BHI Collaborative offers not only a proven path toward implementation but also an efficient path that does not require a major overhaul of current workflow or entail significant financial outlays.

Through the work of the BHI Collaborative, the AMA, in association with other leading medical organizations, is committed to helping physicians navigate and succeed in a continually evolving health care environment, while ensuring a professionally satisfying, sustainable physician practice experience that meets the comprehensive health needs of patients.

“We know that children and adolescents are struggling during this pandemic, and so increasing the ability of pediatricians and other health care providers to offer mental health and behavioral health care and support is incredibly important,” says Sally Goza, MD, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “Through the work of this collaborative, we hope we will increase families’ access to care, reduce the stigma of mental illness, and improve pediatricians’ ability to care for the whole child, including their physical and behavioral health needs.”

“Promoting the integration of behavioral and mental health care into physician practices is essential to expanding access to these vital services and identifying patients who may need them,” says Thomas Ely, DO, president of the American Osteopathic Association (AOA). “The AOA is proud to partner with other leading physician associations to develop resources on behavioral health integration and to support the delivery of whole-person care.”

“Oftentimes the intersection of physical and mental health problems occurs in emergency departments or primary care settings that may not be best equipped to treat patients with mental illness and substance use disorders” says Jeffrey Geller, MD,  MPH, president of the American Psychiatric Association. “The BHI Collaborative helps primary care physicians learn about the benefits of collaboration with psychiatrists to provide the behavioral health care support needed for medical practices across the nation to offer the full spectrum of medical care, improving access and outcomes for our patients.”

Source: American Medical Association