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More ACOs look to behavioral health

January 22, 2015
by Jill Sederstrom
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"It's an opportunity for organizations who are getting serious about working on behavioral health integration and primary care to actually get started and learn from each other as well as from the faculty that are teaching the content,"  Laderman says.

Participating organizations in the collaborative will be able to use whatever integration method works best for them.

Barriers to engagement

Guterman says ACOs that fail to explore behavioral healthcare integration could ultimately lose out on potential savings because they may not be treating the true issues affecting the patient. Typically, proving outcomes for patients with behavioral health disorders can be more difficult because the processes and measurements are not as clearly defined as surgical procedures or medical conditions.

"It's a daunting task to try to take that on," Guterman says.

Laderman says financial barriers such as trying to wrangle reimbursement for providing behavioral health services are some of the most difficult for ACOs considering behavioral healthcare integration.

But the hurdles can be theoretical, too. There are often professional-cultural barriers as different types of providers try to figure out how to work together as a team. Accountable care today usually relies on a primary provider as the quarterback, but that’s not always the case.

"It's really important for the leaders of the organizations to set the culture and set the expectation that everybody is working together to address the patient's whole person health and so that  all the staff really understands that this is their mission together and that efforts are made to mitigate some of those cultural clashes that can arise between different types of providers now operating in the same space," Laderman says.

Regardless of the challenges, experts agree that interest in behavioral healthcare integration is growing among ACOs and will likely be even more prevalent in the years ahead.

"I think we'll reach a point where integration becomes the standard of care," Laderman says. "We might remember a time where we talked about behavioral health integration as a separate piece of care, but as integration continues to move forward at more and more organizations, it's just what patients expect. And it's just what providers expect."

Jill Sederstrom is a freelance writer based in Kansas City

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