General News — 20 February 2015

SUSAN DEVORE: Mental illness is one of America’s most common conditions, affecting 42.5 million people a year (nearly 1 in 5 adults). Unfortunately, there are too few licensed, experienced mental-health providers to treat them. The end result is that far too many people with these conditions are undiagnosed, which can lead to a range of adverse outcomes, including homelessness, crime or harm to oneself or others. In addition, unresolved mental-health issues can add expense to the nation’s health-care tab. A recent Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality analysis suggests in 2011, four mental-health or substance-use disorders were among the conditions resulting in the most all-cause, 30-day readmissions for Medicaid patients, costing hospitals $832 million. Across all patients, mental-health conditions like depression and schizophrenia can have a significant financial impact on our economy, bubbling up to cost as much as it does to treat arthritis or coronary artery disease–an annual cost of $33 billion. In an effort to better manage mental health and ensure patients receive the right care in the right setting, some progressive systems are taking a new approach by integrating trained behavioral health staff within the primary care practice. Robin Williams once said, “I used to think that the worst thing in life was to end up alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel alone.” Managing care outside of the health-care system is becoming as important to outcomes and costs as managing care within it. bigstock-Mental-Health-Warning--32532146 These new care delivery models represent promising opportunities because they emphasize patient care and connectivity among diverse caregivers. By integrating behavioral-health experts in the primary-care practitioner’s office, providers cannot only offer counseling sessions, but also become a portal to the rest of the behavioral health world of substance abuse therapy, psychiatrists and other specialized services. All of which helps patients navigate this complex part of the health-care system, increasing access to appropriate caregivers when needed and building the foundation to optimal health care. This article first appeared The Wall Street Journal, 18 February 2015.


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