integrating careDoctors are tired. They’re depressed and burned-out. And who can blame them? They are dealing with constantly changing regulations that are exhausting to keep up with, and increased reporting requirements that are taking away valuable time which could be better spent with their patients. Primary care physicians are getting the brunt of this growing problem.

In addition to treating all the physical ailments, family doctors are on the front line of spotting and diagnosing a vast variety of mental health conditions – even though it’s not their specialty. To make things worse, there are now fewer mental health specialists, so PCPs are being called upon to fill the void. It’s no wonder fewer young doctors are choosing to work in primary care.

Statistics We Can’t Ignore

Almost seventy-four percent of patients with a behavioral condition go to their primary care physician first since that’s the doctor patients know best and trust the most. Today, family physicians have limited systems and tools to diagnose behavioral health conditions and mental health is not their specialty. One study estimated that 50 percent of those diagnoses turn out to be incorrect. There are a myriad of complications related to these misdiagnoses not the least of which are the extra time and money it takes to re-diagnose to say nothing of the heartache for the patient and his or her family.

Investing in Life & Time Saving Tools

What if tools for PCPs were now available for them to systematically and accurately diagnose their patients with behavioral health issues? Time saving tools that made it easy to integrate behavioral healthcare into their routine patient visits? Tools that make it easier for physicians to treat patients holistically, addressing not only physical but mental health, and assisting them to make accurate diagnoses and referrals for specialized treatment, if needed? Tools that would ease and simplify the process of generating consistent, accurate and complete documentation in the medical record?

As a nation, we’ve been slow to roll out integrated care across our healthcare systems. Some, like the Mayo Clinic and InterMountain, have successfully made the leap. Why not everyone else? In a traditional volume-based model of care, patients are seen as a revenue stream. However, the impending switch to value-based care means outcomes are more important than ever. By addressing a patient’s mental health and possible comorbidities (diabetes and depression, for example) while providing traditional primary care, outcomes can be improved (and, in most cases, healthcare costs reduced).

physician burnoutHolistic Treatment for Patients

To accomplish this, healthcare executives need to invest in resources and technology to help their doctors treat the whole patient – mind and body. It’s not only good for the patients and the doctors, but also for the organization. Experts like Harvard, Milliman, the Milbank Memorial Fund, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the US Government say the lack of recognition of comorbid conditions increases cost of care between two and four times what would be a predictable cost if the organization enforced a holistic view of the patient by employing integrated physical and behavioral tools from the beginning.

Smart technology can now help primary care physicians to arrive at a more precise diagnosis, recommend the best, evidence-based treatment and refer the best local specialists for their patients who have behavioral health conditions. With these automated, end-to-end tools, general practitioners can now integrate behavioral care with their existing physical-care workflows.

Now and Beyond

Technology will continue to disrupt the healthcare industry. So far, the transition to electronic record keeping, although a step forward, has been slow and another source of frustration for many practitioners. It appears that with the advent of Risk Adjustment Factor (RAF) scoring, consistent, accurate and complete documentation in the medical record will only become increasingly important.

The challenge is to make this documentation and care integration easier and less time consuming for the PCPs so they can focus on what they trained so long and hard to do and what gives them the greatest satisfaction, helping patients.

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