Health and consumer groups call for an integrated health care system


Current system hurts patient care by artificially separating emotional and physical health

WASHINGTON -- A coalition of 24 health care provider, public health and consumer groups today called for the integration of behavioral and mental health services into the nation's primary and public health systems.

In a joint statement, The Health Care for the Whole Person Collaborative, which includes the American Psychological Association (APA), the American Public Health Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Nurses Association, the National Association of Community Health Centers, Families USA and the Consumers Union among others, said that the current model of health care in the United States artificially separates emotional and mental health from physical health leading to higher health care costs and negative effects on health care access and outcomes.

This collaborative is a unique coming together of consumer, medical, advocacy and mental health organizations accounting for millions of Americans who receive health care through both private and public systems.

"The structure of the U.S. health care system diverges from the types of symptoms and problems patients and their families bring to their providers," the collaborative joint statement says. "A strong integrated health care system and approach to public health in both urban and rural areas are the central (and missing) pieces of the health care puzzle."

The ten most common problems adult patients bring to primary care health services (which include chest pain, fatigue, dizziness, headaches, back pain and insomnia) account for 40 percent of all primary care visits but only 26 percent of these problems have a confirmed biological cause, the Collaborative reported.

"The more tools and partners that a primary care provider has available the better the patient can be served," states Ronald Levant, EdD, APA President and a principal of The Health Care for the Whole Person Collaborative. "This is especially true in dealing with the myriad of health issues that have a psychological component. There is no doubt that integrating psychological health care into primary care and all health services will have a positive effect on patient outcomes and on the overall quality of our health care system. Integrated care must become a high priority for our nation's health care system."

According to the collaborative statement, an integrated primary health care system and one that rests on the biopsychosocial model of health will reduce the burden of illness and injury for all Americans but particularly for those minority, poor, young and elderly Americans who are currently underserved by the health care system. It would furthermore reduce the nation's overall health care spending by more efficient use of health care services and an emphasis on prevention and early treatment.

"As nurse practitioners, we frequently find during a clinic visit that a patient with a medical problem also has a significant mental health issue, "says Judy Hendricks, President of the American College of Nurse Practitioners, a Collaborative partner. "The current system makes it almost impossible for clinicians from both the psychiatric and primary care systems to work together during one visit to meet all the needs of the patient. This artificial separation of services creates a burden on both the patient and the providers."

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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