We talk a lot here at Occupy Healthcare about the importance of redesigning the healthcare system. We have discussed in great detail the importance of primary care and the need to have robust primary care services to truly help impact the health of the community. We have also discussed mental health before and the need for better whole person treatment. But when reports in the media continue to emerge highlighting the problems associated with treating mental health, we must tackle the issue.
First, let’s talk about what we know about mental health.
For decades we have known that more mental health is seen in primary care than in any other healthcare setting. The prevalence of mental health problems in primary care are substantial. Consider the following statistics (all of these data can be found here):
Second, we know that when mental health needs are not met, it costs healthcare a lot more:
Employers, one of the primary purchasers of healthcare, often are the ones being impacted by mental health more often than not. Consider the following numbers:
Further, when we look at the cost of mental health conditions “comorbid” with chronic disease, the numbers do not get any rosier. Consider data the Robert Graham Center found in the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey:
|Annual Cost – those without MH condition||Annual Cost – those with MH condition|
|High Blood Pressure||$3,481||$5,492|
It’s quite clear that when mental health conditions are seen along side chronic disease, there is a higher likelihood that there will be a greater expense associated with that patient. The authors of this paper see the significance of these data and conclude their paper with the following:
“Carve-outs of mental health benefits (i.e., only paying for mental health care delivered by mental health professionals), high copayments for mental health treatment, and inadequate reimbursement are barriers to effective collaboration and disincentives for primary care physicians to screen for and adequately treat mental health. Fixing disparities, removing mental health carve-outs, and creating blended payment systems could improve mental health treatment in primary care. This would support integrated, patient-centered mental health care that is consistent with the principles of the medical home.”
Finally, because more mental health is seen in primary care than in any other healthcare setting, it appears that one solution to tackle mental health is to better integrate mental health providers into primary care. And while there is robust data to support this notion, healthcare policy still has a tough time wrapping its head around bringing together two historically disparate systems.
It is quite clear that we need to do more in healthcare around mental health; however, rarely, if ever, are patients just presenting with a mental health condition.
As seen in the graph above, the higher the number of physical symptoms (the x axis or numbers on the bottom), the higher the likelihood one has a mental health diagnosis (the y axis or the percentages on the left). If one looks at these data, what stands out is the substantial overlap between mental and physical. Some may say inseparable overlap. After all, is there really any difference between your mind and your body?
While we have separate systems (a mental health system and a physical health system) to treat the whole person maybe it is time we start to reconsider how and where we treat mental health. Maybe we stop calling it mental health in the first place as that appears to be a misnomer and maybe we start focusing on comprehensive whole person health?
It’s really just about health, isn’t it? Health is health is health? Or is it?
To better address mental health, where we need to go and what we need to do, here are a few suggestions:
We must start to develop a system that can take care of the whole person and not just pieces of the person;
We must start to invest and educate our providers on how to deliver team-based care;
We must start to better consider the patient preference in their care, and how best to provide that care where they want that care;
We must create a financial payment system in healthcare that can support better healthcare integration and team-based care delivery;
We must start to modify our thinking about mental health as not just one isolated aspect of health. Maybe when we do, we can start to better understand what must be done to meet all a person’s healthcare needs.