The statistics are staggering. Millions of Americans face the reality of living with a mental illness each year, and almost everyone knows someone whose life is impacted by one. Added to that, the COVID-19 pandemic has increased this burden for some, with isolation, grief, stress, and anxiety leaving lasting impacts.
“We are facing a mental health crisis,” Penny Johnson, president/CEO for the Southwest Region of AdventHealth in the United States and executive sponsor of the health system’s behavioral health initiative in the outpatient setting, said. “Our providers are seeing patients of all ages who are struggling with anxiety and depression and often don’t know where to turn. For some, there is a stigma associated with seeking help; for others, there can be barriers to access,” she added.
Primary care providers, who often have a long-term and trusted relationship with their patients, can play a key role in assessing the need for and providing behavioral health interventions. That’s why AdventHealth physicians in Tampa, Florida, and Hendersonville, North Carolina, are partnering with Concert Health, a leading behavioral health medical group, to provide an integrated approach to improving mental and physical health.
“We’re honored to work with AdventHealth to help patients get the treatment they need for behavioral conditions like depression and anxiety, integrated directly into primary care,” Spencer Hutchins, CEO for Concert Health, said. “Together, we are redefining primary care to include the full range of patient needs — behavioral and physical — and finally enabling primary care physicians to truly practice whole-person care.”
This approach results from AdventHealth’s renewed and increased focus on improving mental health care and resources for consumers and team members. The strategy is to embed screenings into health-care touchpoints, improve access to prompt and effective behavioral health interventions, and track outcomes to ensure patient improvement.
“This model is a clinically proven way to integrate behavioral health into primary care to improve behavioral health screening, access, and outcomes for our patients. We now have one team working seamlessly together to provide whole health — body, mind, and spirit — for those who trust us for their care,” Johnson said.
At the initial locations in Tampa and Hendersonville, AdventHealth’s primary care physicians connect patients with Concert Health's remotely located behavioral health care managers. These specialists provide therapy, develop a behavioral health care plan for each patient, and serve as a liaison to Concert Health’s psychiatric consultants and the primary care physician to collaboratively review patient progress and make adjustments to care. The primary care physician also prescribes medication recommended by the behavioral health care team. Patients meet regularly with their care manager via phone or video visit.
“Many people struggling with behavioral health concerns never get the care they need — either because they lack a diagnosis or don’t realize what it is that they are experiencing. This program allows a safe space for patients and makes it easy for them to get treatment and improve their overall health and quality of life,” Rainer Chan, chief medical officer for the AdventHealth Medical Group in the West Florida Division, explained.
“It has been a dream come true to embed this facet of patient care within our offices,” Kelley Singer, director of physician quality and physician enterprise for AdventHealth Hendersonville, added. “Patients visibly relax with relief as they learn behavioral health professionals practice within the same location. The willingness to engage with our psychiatrists or psychologists is almost 100 percent now, contrasting with rarely in the past.”
The program is expected to scale to additional AdventHealth care sites over the next several months of 2021.