More often than not, primary care physicians are the first line of defense for identifying a mental health condition. This happens at routine appointments through the use of a behavioral health assessment such as the PHQ-9 for depression or the GAD-7 for anxiety, the identification of physical symptomatology associated with a mental health condition (such as insomnia, weight loss, difficulty concentrating, or feelings of sadness), or in a candid conversation that a patient has with their trusted medical practitioner.
As a result, medical providers are often left with indicators and information but no real or effective resources for treating their patient’s mental health conditions. What’s a doctor to do?
One option is to refer patients to their insurance directory to find a therapist, but that can be labor-intensive, cumbersome, frustrating, and not to mention outdated. In one 2015 NIH study, investigators phoned 360 psychiatrists listed in insurance directories only to discover that a mere 26% of the phone numbers listed reached the office of a provider seeing patients.
Another option is to keep a running list of online resources or therapists for patient recommendations; however, that has to be frequently updated, potentially posing a bandwidth issue for the front office staff or the resource coordinator.
Unfortunately, both approaches can result in low utilization for medical practices and high drop-off rates for patients post-referral.
SonderMind’s Integrated Therapist program offers a different solution. With this program, medical practice partners have the opportunity to integrate a licensed therapist into their practice. This therapist acts as an extension of the care team, providing direct access to mental health care for the practice’s patients, either on-site or through SonderMind’s Video Telehealth platform. There are also three significant benefits for practitioners to use this program:
An Integrated Therapist works directly with a medical practice’s patient population and can provide patient status updates in real-time through an Electronic Medical Records (EMR) system, phone, or secure email. This direct communication between a practice and therapist can build familiarity and rapport, eliminating some of the challenges of traditional mental health referrals and scheduling headaches — for both patients and practices.
Many studies have shown that embedding a mental health professional within the clinic environment helps improve patient outcomes. With the increase in collaboration, patients, providers, and staff also report an overall higher level of satisfaction with their care.
Providing whole-person care, when physical health conditions are treated along with mental health conditions, has been shown to improve outcomes. In fact, one 2015 study by BDC Advisors found that the "integration of behavioral health and primary care services can both enhance compliance with preventive care, thereby improving the effectiveness of chronic disease treatment, and help engage patients in self-management to improve lifestyle behaviors that contribute to these chronic conditions."
A 2020 study looking at 21 million Americans covered by commercial insurance found that 27% of individuals were diagnosed with a behavioral health condition. For those individuals, the cost of medical treatment was 2.8-6.2 times higher than the costs for individuals with identified behavioral health conditions.
The good news is, with increased integration and decreased stigma around mental health, outcomes will improve. That means patients will end up spending less time and money on provider visits. And, providers may also be given access to more insurance contracts and reimbursement opportunities if they utilize this type of behavioral health integration in their office.
In 2020, nearly 6 in 10 U.S. adults with a mental health condition did not receive treatment. With SonderMind’s Integrated Therapist program, medical practices can embrace a team-based, mind-body approach. This approach has been proven to ensure the highest quality of care by helping practices close communication gaps, improve overall patient health and outcomes, and reduce healthcare costs for their patients.
If you would like to learn more about this program, contact us today.
Klein, Jared W et al. “Perceptions of Primary Care Notes by Patients With Mental Health Diagnoses.” Annals of family medicine vol. 16,4 (2018): 343-345. doi:10.1370/afm.2287
Zivin, Kara et al. “"No-Shows": Who Fails to Follow Up With Initial Behavioral Health Treatment?”
The American Journal of Managed Care, February 2009, volume 15, Issue 2.
Ede, Victor et al. “An Examination of Perceptions in Integrated Care Practice.” Community mental health journal vol. 51,8 (2015): 949-61. doi:10.1007/s10597-015-9837-9
Davenport, Stoddard et al. “How do individuals with behavioral health conditions contribute to physical and total healthcare spending?” Millman research report, August 13, 2020.
Floyd, Phyllis. “Integrating Physical and Behavioral Health: A Major Step Toward Population Health Management.” BDS Advisors. 2015.
The University of Washington. “Evidence Base for CoCM | University of Washington AIMS Center.”
Mental Health America. “2020 Access to Care Data.”