Whole-person health: A conversation about integrated behavioral health

By Regence
May 10, 2024
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Taking care of our health involves both physical and mental well-being, and it’s important to prioritize both. While we may be good at scheduling check-ups for physical health, mental health can be trickier, and it can be hard to know where to start or how to connect the dots between the two. That's where health care professionals like Dr. Robert Accordino, chief medical officer for AbleTo and Dr. Mike Franz, executive medical director of behavioral health for Regence, come in. Together, they share how integrated care can support our overall health and well-being.

Regence: Can you explain integrated behavioral health care and why it’s important?

Dr. Accordino: Integrated behavioral health care refers to an approach that combines mental health and substance use disorder treatments with primary health care. The goal is to provide comprehensive and coordinated care that addresses both physical and behavioral health needs. This integration acknowledges that mental health, substance use, and physical health all are closely related and aims to improve overall well-being by treating the whole person—combining care of the mind with care of the body.

Regence: How are physical health and mental health related?

Dr. Accordino: There is a well-established relationship between physical health problems and mental health. Physical health problems can significantly increase the risk of developing mental health issues, and vice versa. This connection is often referred to as the mind-body connection.

One way in which physical health problems can impact mental health is through chronic illness. Individuals with chronic physical illnesses, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or autoimmune disorders, may experience higher rates of depression and anxiety. Managing a chronic condition can be emotionally challenging, and the symptoms of the illness itself may contribute to mental health issues. Integrated approaches that consider both aspects can lead to more effective and holistic treatment.

Dr. Franz: Just as physical ailments can dampen our mental state, mental struggles can lead to significant health issues like heart disease and high blood pressure. About 70% of primary care visits stem from mental health issues like anxiety and depression. Recognizing this connection, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends regular mental health screenings for both adults and children. Integrating behavioral health care with primary care makes it easier to address problems that threaten the health of people and their families.

Regence: In your experience, how can someone seeking care be involved in the integrated care process?

Dr. Accordino: Individuals seeking care play a crucial role in the success of integrated care by actively participating in the process. They can communicate openly with health care providers, share personal goals and preferences, participate in shared decision-making and engage in self-management.

Additionally, they can coordinate care, advocate for comprehensive care, address stigma, utilize support services and monitor progress. By taking an active role, individuals can contribute to their own well-being and help shape a more patient-centered and effective health care experience.                                                                                                                                                    

Regence: How is Regence addressing the need for integrated behavioral health care?

Dr. Franz: We recognize that effective health care must address the needs of both a patient’s physical and behavioral health. To support our members, we’re working with our primary care providers to integrate behavioral health into their interactions with patients, reducing the need for specialist referrals. We've implemented peer support to select Medicare members, which has been successful at lowering emergency room visits.

We are also piloting a new Value-Based Integrated Care Management (VB-ICM) program this year. The program uses a relationship-based, interdisciplinary approach to address clinical and non-clinical barriers to improved health. Our case managers in this pilot focus on removing barriers to health improvement by looking at the biological, psychosocial, social and health system challenges patients face. And, of course, we continue to work with virtual provider partners like AbleTo to make it easier for members to address their behavioral health needs.

Regence: How does AbleTo support integrated behavioral health care?

Dr. Accordino: Our Cognitive Behavioral Therapy program helps members dealing with a medical condition or life stressor ​learn to ​cope with their health issue and better manage stress and anxiety. Although our programs are structured, they’re tailored to an individual’s specific need so they can quickly get back to feeling their best.

We’re here to help

If you or your loved one needs emotional support or mental health care, we can help you find the behavioral health care option that fits your needs. Most of our health plans offer virtual mental health treatment options from providers such as AbleToArrayDoctor on DemandTalkspace and Charlie Health. No referral is needed – you can visit the provider’s website and fill out their intake form for an appointment.

We encourage you to visit these providers’ websites or call us at the number listed on your member ID card to verify which virtual care and traditional behavioral health options are available through your health plan.