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The Role of the Primary Care Providers in Enhancing the Quality of Behavioral Health Services
Mental Health
4 Minutes
Woman looks away from the camera into living room.
“Is it that time of the month again?” Diane was tired of hearing this phrase. “No, it is not! These are repetitive feelings that I do not have any control over…” She thought with herself. Like the times she was struggling at school and no one understood that something was wrong. Instead, she would always hear “you are not trying hard enough.”
Diane knew this was not normal, what she didn’t know was that her condition has a name… Anxiety.

Numbers show that about half of mental problems start at the age of fourteen. Lack of knowledge about mental illnesses, its stigma and not having easy access to mental health services are some common factors for which most mental illnesses are undetected and untreated.

Diane wished there had been a physical proof for this condition, like when a bone in your leg breaks and you can not walk. No one blames you then, because they see your X-Ray results, clear evidence of the broken bone. What if there was a proof for broken behaviors? So everyone would understand why she was not feeling alright, instead of always accusing her with the cliché that her behavior had to be the bi-product of her menstrual cycle.

This is not just a story about Diane, but it’s the truth for most people with mental health illnesses. Which does not end even there. Mental health and physical illnesses co-occur frequently (multiple studies have shown that depression can lead to joint pain, gastrointestinal issues and substance abuse which can lead to pneumonia, STIs, etc.). Mental health issues can shorten one’s lifespan by 7 to 20 years and in some cases, people that suffer from mental illness will commit suicide. Most people with a history of mental illness die from the physical complications attributed to the illness such as circulatory, respiratory, and digestive systems issues.

If Diane had easy access to mental health care, her mental problem would not grow with her. According to a 2018 research by Cummings et al., published in NCBI, only 50% of the high-income communities in the United States have access to a community based mental health treatment resource. This number is significantly reduced to 25% for low-income communities.

Surprisingly, within the United States, family physicians receive good training to diagnose and to coordinate for the care that’s needed for common mental illnesses and behavioral issues. While the role of a family physician is taking care of people, so why won’t families benefit from proper mental health diagnoses and treatments, especially at its beginning stages by simply visiting their family doctor?
Easy access to the family physician and also the meaningful relationship between the physician and the patient can greatly minimize the gap between the care quality received for physical illnesses and the care quality received for mental illnesses by family physicians.

Data from models of integrated primary care in the USA and other wealthier countries state that continuity of mental health care and working alongside integrated care teams is highly effective in improving health outcomes.

Continuity of mental health care is highly effective in improving health outcomes.

Back to our story, according to the research on the role of the behavioral health care team in primary care (Dale, 2016), if Diane could benefit from it at the early stages of her anxiety, this could play an important role in battling her mental illness. As, members of the behavioral health care team work collaboratively with the primary healthcare team to better support patients by making changes to the management of long-term conditions, prevention of physical complications, and the improvement of the mental wellbeing of the patient.

The integration of mental health treatment with primary care can lead to early discovery and intervention of any potential mental health illness. Psychiatrists, psychologists, coaches and other members of the behavioral health care team who work interactively with the primary care team, can help reduce the stigma associated with mental illness for the patient and their families since primary care services are often seen as an “acceptable” and also an accessible type of care. There is an increasing recognition across the US and Canada that primary care must incorporate the prevention, identification, and treatment of mental health issues. A recent evidence for that is, the merger of Livongo and Teladoc companies to move toward providing ”Whole Care” to the population.

During the current pandemic of COVID-19 tele/online medicine has proven itself to be an effective means of treatment for routine checkups and other various health issues. The integration of mental health treatment with primary care is an ideal add-on to these routine checkups, not only because pre-existing mental conditions have been intensified during the pandemic, but also because the pandemic has made its own new mental health problems as well (from Anxiety and Depression to Substance abuse and Addiction.)

A digital behavioral health platform like OPTT empowers providers with accessible, affordable, effective and especially, clinically validated processes.

Now imagine how accessible, affordable, and effective, this integration of mental health treatment with primary care services could be, by simply providing them through an online platform.

A digital behavioral health platform like OPTT could empower providers with clinically validated processes and content and offer comprehensive data and analytics of user’s mental health profiles and making mental health care more efficient for providers. At the same time, this platform can help more patients by its accessible nature which avoids lengthy waitlists for in-person/synchronized psychotherapy sessions.

In other words, Diane could easily tackle her issues with anxiety by simply using her smartphone/laptop and having access to the OPTT platform through her primary care clinic. Then the primary care clinic works collaboratively with the behavioral health team that includes coaches, psychologists, and psychiatrists to assist Diane instantly and asynchronously.

Follow this series to learn more about how digital behavioral health platforms can empower the primary care providers to become proactive in treating their patients’ behavioral health needs with automation and the use of AI therapy assistant tools.

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