3 investments in behavioral health every ACO should consider

The main goal of an ACO is to provide the best possible outcomes at the lowest cost to care. One way ACO leaders can do this is to start thinking strategically about behavioral health. Leana Lopez, manager of clinical integration and innovation at Medical Home Network, shares a few strategic investments that ACOs across the country should consider when it comes to improving behavioral health for patients.

Lopez offers consultation and training for care management programs, creates community social service partnerships and leads behavioral health initiatives for the 12 hospitals and health centers in MHN ACO. Whether it’s borrowing best practices from primary care practices or paying more attention to national health trends, here’s a look at how ACO leaders could invest in behavioral health:

Integrate behavioral services into the primary care setting

Behavioral health conditions affect nearly one in five Americans. Spending for behavioral care costs is $57 billion a year (almost the same amount that’s spent on cancer). Lopez sees a developing trend of primary care offices that offer behavioral health treatment, at the same location. She says not only is this a way for ACOs to save money, but it’s a way for patients to not feel stigmatized about their condition.

“When primary care and behavioral health services are at the same location, this is a great way to help a patient get treatment,” Lopez says. “For example, if a patient sees their substance abuse like any other disease state — they’ll be more likely to get treatment. Plus, patients are more likely to go see their primary care doctor to begin with.”

Treat the opioid epidemic differently

In 2016, more people died from opioids than breast cancer. This is a fact that ACOs need to pay attention to. How can they help prevent these deaths?

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) is the latest way people are being treated for opioid addiction. It combines behavioral health treatments, therapy and medication to treat the substance abuse disorder. MAT can be given at a primary care site or community space. The old way of treating patients was sending them to detox or a substance abuse clinic, without any kind of therapy.

“MAT comes with case management, therapy and weekly medication — it’s a wraparound service,” Lopez says. “MAT is something ACOs should invest in because it’s an effective strategy, long-lasting and not as costly. It’s more effective than sending patients to detox over and over again.”

Invest in telemedicine

Nationally, we’re suffering from a huge drought of psychiatric services in the U.S. This isn’t an issue ACOs can tackle on their own, but because of the shortage, ACOs need to be more strategic about how to provide psychiatric services to patients. One way to do this is through telemedicine.

Lopez says it’s common for patients to wait up to three months to see a psychiatrist and then there’s a huge no-show rate of missed appointments. By providing access to telepsychiatry (where a patient can connect to their psychiatrist by phone and computer), they are less likely to miss appointments and get care more quickly.

“If I give my patients a referral to see a psychiatrist, I have to worry about how they’ll even get to the appointment,” Lopez says. “If there’s a way where they can do their telepsychiatry appointment at a primary care office, that’s even more efficient and effective. Telemedicine is something ACOs need to pay attention to because it’s a way of reaching more patients, in less time, with better outcomes."

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