Prominent officials, including the President Joe Biden and govt. Jay Insleeidentified behavioral health care as a priority service, and some experts discussed how it is progressing in Washington during the 2022 Health Policy Conference on the State of Northwest Inland Reform.
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Psychologist Dr. Noelle Turner, of Mica Peak Psychology & Consulting, was one of the panelists on the conference’s “An Honest Conversation About the Future of the Behavioral Health System” panel.
“I mean integrated primary care or primary care behavioral health,” Turner said. “And the reason I’m passionate about it is that it combines medical and behavioral services for issues that patients bring to primary care, including stress, physical symptoms, health behaviors, mental health, substance use disorders For any problem, there is no wrong door.
Behavioral health services are much needed, but some who need care find it difficult to access it. Primary care physicians (PCPs) have expressed concern about this, Turner said.
“What we know is that 46% of adults will have mental health or addiction issues at some point in their lives,” Turner said. “And that number has actually increased with the pandemic. We also know that 20% of primary care visits are solely for mental health or addiction issues, and that’s where I see primary care behavioral health shine. Of that 20% of PCP visits solely for mental health and addictions issues, when PCPs were interviewed, about two-thirds said they could not access mental health care for their patients. [They’re] willing to do something and they can’t get them to take over.
Jeff Thomas, CEO of Frontier Behavioral Health, also participated in the panel. He identified telehealth, which has been widely used during the pandemic, as an effective way to deliver more behavioral health services.
“We will continue to expand the use of technology and service delivery,” Thomas said. “Telehealth is here to stay. Exactly what it will look like is still being understood as the [public health emergency] order sort of ages. There is certainly a place for it in our world.
Thomas said interoperability will be important so providers can share information through electronic medical records and have as much patient information as possible.
“By the end of this year, we will have interoperability with every one of our primary care providers,” Thomas said. “It’s such a fantastic development. Exchanges of Community information are under study. I think there will be progress on this. It has to do primarily with ways in which there can be portals for referrals and closed-loop referrals to the social determinants of health providers.
Another way to scale up care is to further expand communication-based inpatient treatment, Thomas said. He noted that several Ministry of Commerce Grants were distributed through the behavioral health facility program to expand services in behavioral health facilities. This could help these facilities prepare to care for patients who are ready to be discharged from hospitals but have not been able to secure placement in other healthcare organizations.
Jess Molberg, senior director of behavioral health at Coordinated Care, also participated in the panel. She said more tapering investments could help solve the problem.
“You see people staying longer in acute environments,” Molberg said. “We need these places of transition so that people can continue their journey of well-being. There is no global approach for this.
Some states are using qualified mental health professionals (QMHPs) to reach more patients, which could be helpful in Washington, Molberg said.
“They go out into the community,” Molberg said. “They also sit in the clinics. If you can’t see your advisor, you can see this QMHP.