ACP, Others Join Forces to Help Internists Offer Behavioral Health Services

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The Behavioral Health Integration Collaborative provides tools to help practices integrate behavioral health into the primary care setting

Feb. 4, 2022 (ACP)—For physicians considering adding mental health care and substance use disorder treatment to their practice, the American College of Physicians and the leading primary care and psychiatric physician groups are partnering to help practices better integrate behavioral health into the primary care setting.

Led by the American Medical Association, the Behavioral Health Integration (BHI) Collaborative provides tools to make this task more manageable, including a new compendium – the BHI Compendium -- and a webcast series with a focus on implementation, including practice workflow design, screening and non-pharmacological treatment, substance use disorder screening and treatment, and suicide prevention.

“Behavioral health is an important part of primary care, and the need started before COVID-19 with the opioid epidemic, extreme weather events, increased gun violence and other local, national and global disasters that took a toll on mental health. The isolation and economic stresses from the coronavirus have dramatically increased the demand for such services,” said Margo Williams, ACP manager of practice support.

Primary care practices are appropriate settings for the delivery of mental health care services, as internists are often patients' main and only link to the health care system. “Our goal is to provide information and resources to help practices overcome some of the barriers to offering these services, including accessing mental health professionals and trained staff,” Williams said.

To that end, the BHI Compendium provides detailed information and a step-by-step action plan on how to integrate behavioral health care into a practice. The Overcoming Obstacles Webinar Series features videos on such topics as behavioral health concerns in children, adolescents, and adults and bolstering chronic care management with behavioral health integration.

A library of webinars is available, and more are planned in 2022, Williams said.

Successfully integrating mental health and substance use disorder services into a practice starts with identifying any barriers, including staff and financial obstacles, she said. “Help is available to teach physicians how to establish workflows for handing patients off to mental health care clinicians and to learn how to talk about mental health care to get past any stigma,” she said.

Some practices may need to bring in new staff to help with the integration, while others may just need to expand current staff members' roles and responsibilities. “Internists will also need to cultivate a relationship or arrangement with mental health clinicians and have someone in the practice to facilitate access to them remotely or in person,” she said. “If you are already doing chronic care management, the coordinator could also coordinate the mental health services depending on their training,” she said.

Other resources available through the BHI Collaborative include:

  • AIMS Center: This University of Washington in Seattle website provides role-based tools and billing and coding guidance for mental health services.
    • Office Hours: Experts answer questions and provide guidance during office hours on any implementation hurdles.
    • Financial Modeling Workbook: This downloadable workbook can help practices model and estimate revenue and expenses for providing integrated behavioral health services.
  • Waco Guide: This decision support tool guides physicians in their psychopharmacology prescribing for common psychiatric and substance use conditions seen in primary care.

“Providing patients with both physical and mental health care allows physicians to feel less burnt out and have more job satisfaction,” Williams said.

More Information

Information on the BHI Collaborative is available on the ACP website.

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