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  • Writer's pictureGozi Egbuonu

3 Reasons Your Hospital Network Needs to Move to an Integrated Health Model Now

Integrated care delivery is associated with broad improvements in symptoms, functioning and well-being, as well as improved management of chronic conditions, decreased hospitalizations and emergency department (ED) visits, and improved overall quality of life for patients.

Over a decade ago, healthcare leaders and proponents of integrated behavioral health predicted the need for a shift to an integrated health service delivery model. While agreement on the financial benefits of such a model are still difficult to ascertain, the qualitative returns of integrating primary care and behavioral health have been realized through improved patient health outcomes.

If you're the chief medical officer or executive at a hospital, federally-qualified health center (FQHC), or medical clinic and you're currently exploring the shift to an integrated health service delivery model, you should know the top three reasons why making that transition is important now.

1. Improved Patient Health Outcomes

A key contributor to the positive impacts of an integrated behavior health model is the concept of colocation. Bonciani et al. (2018) defines colocation as healthcare professionals with a variety of backgrounds working in the same facility. Through colocation, patients can access their primary care doctor, as well as other specialty providers in one place. Colocation improves patient outcomes by reducing the need for patients to commute to various facilities to receive whole-person care. In addition, it reduces the likelihood that a patient misses or fails to access important health care support and resources due to issues of transportation or employment that makes it more difficult for them to attend multiple appointments on multiple days. With all the patients' providers being in one location, patients can coordinate their appointments to meet with all necessary practitioners in one day.

If your medical facility is determined to close the health gaps caused by such social determinants of health (SDoH) as income, employment, and transportation, then integrating your health services is worth the investment.

2. Access to Behavioral Health Services

Contrary to the popular notion that people with significant mental health issues are the only ones who should engage a therapist, everyone can benefit from the support of a mental health professional. In an integrated behavioral health model, all patients can access behavioral health support to improve their medical conditions for the long-term. As a leader of a health institution, you are probably more than aware of this important truth. You are also probably seeking to integrate services with the hope of helping your patients achieve lasting health changes.

Unfortunately, many patients struggle with maintaining healthcare gains due to behavioral challenges that can improve significantly with an effective behavioral health plan. Through quality behavioral health support from a diverse team of medical staff who understand the connection between the body and mind, patients can have better health success and trajectory.

While there is evidence to support the improvement of patient health outcomes through the delivery of integrated behavioral health, the model still faces the challenge of stigma surrounding engagement with mental health care. This presents an opportunity for healthcare leadership to also invest in campaigns aimed at reducing patients' reluctance to utilize mental health resources during their health improvement journey. Simply integrating your health institution's services without addressing the communications necessary for increasing comfort around mental health resources will not produce the patient satisfaction and health gains you seek. It is imperative that you consider the change management needs of an integration process or you are destined to setup your organization and the community served for failure.

3. Productive and Satisfied Workforce

Chances are your hospital, like many others in the United States (US) and abroad, is experiencing a staffing shortage that is negatively impacting the productivity of employees and the satisfaction of both patients and hospital staff. Integrating health services offers a solution to that concerning trend.

"How?" you might be asking. With more providers in a centralized location, staff can better coordinate care based on their expertise. This means the staff necessary for supporting specific clinicians or specialists can focus on providing the care that is tailored to their skills and talents. In addition, providers can more easily refer patients to the specialists their patients need rather than try to provide care that is outside of their training. The result is physicians and staff feeling more satisfied with their workload and the job they're doing. When hospital staff feel confident about their work output, that same positive energy transfers to their patients. This in turn helps patients feel good about their care and the accompanying benefits to their health.

What Next?

Talk to integrated health leaders to learn more about the process of integrating your health services today. With the right information, support, and guidance, you can ensure your medical facility leads the way to improving health disparities and outcomes for communities that continue to be overlooked and under resourced. The global healthcare market is at a turning point necessary for ensuring the equitable access to quality healthcare for all people. If your organization is committed to innovation and health equity, now is the time take the first step in the right direction.

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