Integrated health care services are becoming a more prevalent part of the healthcare system, because better health outcomes require that healthcare providers are aware of the patient’s overall health. Patient care that combines behavioral health needs with physical health needs leads to better health outcomes and patient satisfaction.
Integrated health care services achieve that by creating an interprofessional care team that provides a holistic approach to patient care. In doing so, healthcare providers streamline communications to provide a higher-quality of care at a lower cost.
How Integrated Healthcare Differs From the Common Healthcare Model
The common healthcare system in the U.S. requires patients to create their own network of doctors within their health insurance plan to have all of their healthcare needs filled. These healthcare professionals typically share no common connection or lines of communication. While a primary care physician may offer a referral to a specialized healthcare provider, there is no formal link between the two and it involves visiting two different care facilities and paying different fees.
Moreover, mental health services and social services are completely disconnected from physical health issues in our current healthcare model. When patients receive mental healthcare services or addiction treatment there is little to no care coordination with their other healthcare providers for disease management.
Integrated Healthcare = Care Coordination
An integrated healthcare system understands that behavioral health and physical health are interrelated. An increasing number of healthcare experts, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), are realizing that there is no true wellness without mental health and social health.
Integrated healthcare takes a holistic view of patient well-being. This means creating an interprofessional care team that shares information to develop a whole-person health plan to provide better patient care.
These integrated systems allow health care providers practicing in different fields to have a broader view of their patients’ health conditions and how they are related to one another. An integrated healthcare team can consist of the following practitioners:
- Primary care physicians
- Nurse practitioners
- Social workers
These interdisciplinary team members can help develop treatment plans together that address the patient’s overall health and well-being. By having a primary care physician coordinate a health plan that meets all of a patient’s healthcare needs, a better quality of care is achieved.
Benefits of Integrated Healthcare
As integrated healthcare systems become more commonplace, the benefits are becoming clearer and clearer. Since integrated healthcare is designed to take into account whole-person wellness (which includes social and economic factors), the benefits go beyond just the clinic and quality of care.
1.More Balanced and Comprehensive Well-Being
Many factors contribute to a patients’ wellness. While social factors and behavioral health issues used to be considered separate from general healthcare, research shows that there is a link between a patients’ behavioral health, the amount of social support they receive, and their vulnerability to medical diseases.
The Link Between Mental Health and Physical Health
Behavioral health issues like stress, depression, and anxiety have a large impact on a patient’s physical health. People who suffer from depression are 40% more likely to develop cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. Behavioral health issues can lower a patient’s physical well-being by elevating their heart rate, disturbing their sleep patterns, causing an imbalance in their diet, increasing their likelihood to fall victim to substance abuse, and more.
Patients who have chronic conditions also have a higher chance of developing a mental health condition. Things like chronic pain can increase the risk of depression, and some diseases, such as Parkinson’s, create changes in the brain that may directly lead to mental health issues.
Integrated Healthcare Addresses Social Factors
Integrated healthcare systems also incorporate social workers as a part of their care team. To develop a holistic, whole-person care plan, healthcare providers need to understand the whole person. This includes a person’s family, their community and culture, their formal education, and their financial standing.
All of these elements affect a patient’s well-being and their health. Social workers work with individuals and communities to develop initiatives that allow patients to maintain their own health. Social workers can also help individuals navigate finances, explain the behavioral health screening processes, and locate non-medical resources or community support.
Social workers are also skilled at helping patients and families handle addiction treatment and navigating the mental and physical patient care it requires.
Easier Access to Mental Health Services
Since integrated health systems understand the interconnected relationship between social support, mental health, and physical health, they are more prepared to detect patients’ behavioral health needs.
A primary care physician may not think to suggest counseling or behavioral health services to a patient who complains about chronic fatigue or an elevated heart rate. Instead, they will most likely look for a medical diagnosis. If they don’t find a valid medical diagnosis, then the underlying behavioral health issue may go undiagnosed.
Often there is still stigma associated with mental illness and neurological disorders, even among some medical practitioners who are not familiar with behavioral health issues. Misinformation, lack of accurate referrals, and lack of access can keep a patient from finding the mental health services that will make a difference.
This is a common problem in today’s society; two-thirds of those with a diagnosed mental disorder go untreated.
Additionally, there are many who never see a behavioral healthcare provider even when they display symptoms associated with mental illness or neurological disorders. A sample of 200 U.S. residents showed that approximately 31% were likely to have moderate to severe depression but lacked a formal diagnosis.
Many of those surveyed never considered seeking out mental health services. Some believed they didn’t need such services, assuming they were just “tired,” while others cited an inability to access mental health services.
One of the biggest benefits of integrated healthcare is that mental health services are more accessible to all. Since general practitioners work alongside behavioral healthcare providers and social workers, they’ll be more prepared and informed about warning signs associated with potential behavioral health issues, and can more easily make the referral to complete the screening process.
Social workers are also deeply invested and well-practiced at helping patients find financial solutions and community resources so that mental health services are available to those who may not otherwise seek it out due to healthcare costs.
Integrated health systems allow for a more comprehensive view of wellness and patient care. When behavioral healthcare providers and primary care physicians work together to devise a holistic care plan for patients, it leads to high-quality care that addresses the entirety of the patients’ well-being – leading to better outcomes.
2. Care Coordination Simplifies Healthcare Services
Having an interdisciplinary care team makes patient care much simpler than the current healthcare model that separates healthcare services. Integrated healthcare takes less time and less travel on the part of the patient, and allows for quicker communication among the care team.
Fewer Visits and Fewer Care Facilities
Integrated healthcare increases patient satisfaction by providing an easy route to comprehensive healthcare. Integrated health system facilities commonly house the different clinicians at the same location, cutting down the patient’s need to travel to different locations for their health needs.
It also simplifies the process of making appointments across disciplines. When a patient receives a referral to see a specialized clinician from their primary care physician, they can easily schedule the appointment with the specialist at that moment and location.
The patient’s potential ability to coordinate visits with their care team can help them reduce the amount of visits needed. Having a care team may also help reduce a patient’s need to visit their primary care physician.
One of the long-term benefits of integrated healthcare is a decrease in the need to visit the emergency room. Separate studies found that over a period of several years, patients who were receiving integrated healthcare were less likely to visit the emergency room.
Streamlined Communications Between Healthcare Professionals
Sharing patient care information and coordinating a care plan is much easier with integrated healthcare systems. While technological advances have created electronic means of reporting patient health records, many siloed healthcare professionals don’t think to access certain elements of patient records.
The differences in provider interpretations of HIPPA may make access to patient care records inconsistent and limit the ability of information to follow the patient to different care facilities. By creating an interdisciplinary care team, different clinicians are united in their understanding of a patient’s right to privacy and the information they can access.
Communicating patient care needs and records is largely dependent on the relationship built between interdisciplinary clinicians, and a dedicated care team can streamline communications across the care spectrum.
A primary frustration with the modern healthcare landscape is the complexity of finding healthcare services covered by insurance. If a patient receives a referral from their primary care physician to see a specialist, there is no guarantee that the clinician being referred accepts the patients’ insurance.
With integrated healthcare systems, insurance is simplified for the patient. Patients don’t have to worry about finding new doctors who accept their insurance since their care team is managed by the same entity.
In addition to that, there are government initiatives that incentivize providing integrated care to patients on Medicare and Medicaid. Integrated healthcare can help the most vulnerable members of society find whole-person well-being without having to jump through complicated insurance hoops.
3. Cost-Effective Healthcare
Perhaps the biggest barrier to high-quality patient care in the United States is the rising cost of medical care. Fragmented healthcare services, chronic illnesses, and hospitalization can cost patients thousands, and for this reason many patients avoid receiving the health services they need.
Integrated healthcare, however, can help lower healthcare costs for the patient in a number of ways. There are fewer visits required because of increased communication. Housing an interdisciplinary care team in one care facility eliminates potential extra pay-per-service fees associated with specialists. And quicker diagnosis and holistic initiatives can help patients save money, especially if traditional approaches were focused on treating symptoms rather than working on the cause.
4. Creative Patient Care Solutions for Complicated Health Issues
Having an interdisciplinary care team means that there’s more collaboration between healthcare providers. When a patient sees separate clinicians, they often end up having surface-level symptoms treated over and over in an uphill battle.
When a care team collaborates they can find more effective and creative solutions that increase the patient’s overall well-being.
For example, few patients would be likely to receive a referral to an acupuncturist if they went to their primary care provider about chronic pain, migraines, or fatigue. On their own, a clinician may prescribe medicines that could temporarily relieve the symptoms. A care plan that incorporates acupuncture, however, can be effective in treating a number of surprising ailments:
- Anxiety and depression
- Chronic pain
- Symptoms associated with cancer treatments
You might be surprised that a visit to the chiropractor can also help fight off illnesses, such as the common cold and the flu. Cardiovascular health, as well as mental health, can also benefit from a spinal adjustment. Additionally, chiropractic care can help release endorphins that reduce stress and increase your mood. It also helps relieve pain associated with a number of chronic conditions.
Bringing together a diverse care team allows for a wide range of patient care options. Having these options allows patients to be more in control of their own care, and also obtain a holistic combination of solutions that decrease dependence on medicine.
Finding the Right Integrated Healthcare
When searching for an integrated healthcare facility, you want to make sure that they have clinicians that meet your patient care needs. Integrated healthcare facilities offer different care teams.
Some facilities may be better equipped to provide patient care for children and adolescents, while others may be better equipped to provide care for the elderly. It’s important to research your potential integrated healthcare providers to ensure that they have the solutions that you need to pursue whole-person wellness.
Integrated Healthcare Options Offered by Meridian HealthCare
Here at Meridian HealthCare, we’re equipped to offer a wide range of healthcare services to provide holistic patient care.
We also provide a variety of behavioral health services. We have counselors and mental health professionals that can act as part of your care team to address a variety of concerns. Our professionals can assist with many common diagnoses:
- Mood disorders
For those seeking addiction recovery, we have a welcoming, non-judgmental staff ready to address your concerns and provide effective treatment. We help you develop a person-centered, holistic care plan with an interdisciplinary team that addresses all of your wellness concerns as you recover.
Meridian HealthCare also works with chiropractors and acupuncturists as part of our care teams to help treat chronic conditions and mental health issues.
If you’re the parent of a young child or adolescent, Meridian HealthCare can address their physical healthcare needs, as well as provide mental health and behavioral health services. We also add prevention services that educate teens and children about common social issues and dangers.
Whole-Person Wellness for All
Meridian HealthCare has been proudly serving high-quality patient care to the Mahoning Valley and beyond for close to 50 years. We believe in supporting every patient, and know that every person’s needs are different.
If you’re searching for a holistic approach to healing your chronic conditions and are interested in the benefits of integrated healthcare (or are searching for a primary care provider who will look beyond medication for treatment), Meridian HealthCare is your answer. Find better patient care today.