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Your iPhone is obsolete and so is integration as we know it

August 10, 2015
by Linda Rosenberg
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A decade ago, the iPhone was just a glimmer in a designer’s eye, and integration was a transformative concept in healthcare. The idea that we could improve patients’ health and extend their lives by addressing both their physical and behavioral health needs was unfamiliar to many—even revolutionary.

Today, we still have a long way to go in bringing integrated care to every community in America. But just as the rapid pace of technological change quickly makes your latest iPhone seem prehistoric, the pace of healthcare change has already made integration as we know it obsolete. Integrated care is being reinvented. And even those providers who were in the vanguard must now innovate to survive.

Here are four ways the future of integrated care looks nothing like the present.

1. We’re not playing solitaire any more.

For too long, behavioral health paid for with public dollars was carved out of the rest of the healthcare ecosystem. No one competed for our patients because there were few dollars available to serve this complex, vulnerable population. Today, competition driven by parity and payment reform has brought new financial resources to bear on behavioral health—and with them, new competitors jumping into the game.

Independent physician practice groups are interested in our customers. Hospital systems are building out community behavioral health and primary care satellites. Managed care organizations are becoming direct service providers. Private equity firms and venture capitalists are evaluating our customer base for their potential return on investment. To survive in this world, behavioral health organizations need to offer an integrated care experience that beats the competition.

2. Customer convenience is king.

Integrated care is no longer simply about embedding basic primary care services in behavioral health (or vice versa), and providing referral slips for all the rest. After all, even people with transportation, moderate incomes, and other supports don’t have the time for multiple visits, follow-up referrals to different specialists, or taking time off work for doctor’s appointments.

Integrated care is about making your organization into a one-stop shop for all your customers’ needs—and making them feel like valued and respected partners while you’re at it.

That means integrated care organizations of the future must invest in a multi-disciplinary workforce, from primary and specialty care physicians to social workers, case managers, and wellness coaches—all of whom are experts in health behavior change and building relationships through care that extends beyond clinic walls, into people’s lives. This integration of staff roles across practice settings isn’t just a building block of customer convenience; it’s a huge opportunity for early intervention in the chronic mental and physical illnesses that take such a toll on our nation’s health and finances.

3. If a tree fell, and no one collected the data, it didn’t make a sound.

Many physical health providers are already several steps ahead of behavioral health in implementing data collection—but we all fall short when it comes to using that data to inform treatment.

Integrated health systems of the future will use regular screening protocols, data collection and analysis to measure treatment efficacy and adjust course as needed. They’ll monitor patients’ daily functioning in addition to the clinical signs and symptoms of their conditions. And they’ll measure their providers’ overall performance in chronic disease management. What proportion of depressed patients at risk for diabetes received needed counseling? What workflow processes can be modified to improve that rate? Data will become your essential partner in treatment planning, care coordination, quality improvement, customer service, and every other aspect of your mission.

4. It’s time to get fully wired.

Behavioral health organizations that thrive in the future will know how to leverage the power of technology to extend the reach of staff, empower self-management, and offer the customer-centric experience technology can deliver. Just as technology has revolutionized the way we shop and interact, it will support a transformation in the way we seek and receive healthcare.

And here is where all four of these factors come together: successful integrated care requires the use of technology to collect and evaluate data, which is then used to improve treatment protocols, enhance the customer experience, and position your company for success in a newly competitive market.

Reinvention is about looking at things differently. Ten years ago, pop music fans were crushed when Destiny’s Child broke up, but the group’s demise unleashed the full force of Beyoncé's solo talent on the world. Ten years ago, it never occurred to me to want my email, photos and the Internet with me at all times, but now, I can’t live without my iPhone. Today, we’re working together to reinvent integrated care. Ten years from now, just imagine what we’ll have achieved.

Linda Rosenberg is president and CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Health.

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