Integrating Behavioral Health in Primary Care Reduces Costs and Improves Care



Treating mental health conditions in primary care settings can drastically improve patient health, reduce the rate of physician burnout, and ultimately reduce costs of care. A 2-year grant will fund a new program to integrate behavioral health services into six primary care medical practices at the Academic Innovations Collaborative under the Harvard Medical School Center for Primary Care. The initiative will integrate a network of staff including social workers, counselors, and mental health specialists alongside primary care physicians to coordinate the diagnosis of psychosocial conditions in conjunction with physical health concerns. Russell Phillips, MD, Director of the Center for Primary Care, says,

 “Traditionally, behavioral health has been sort of marginalized…but we know mental health issues present commonly in primary care and complicate the care of patients with other medical conditions. So trying to integrate those services into primary care practice makes sense.” He adds that, “Mental health disorders complicate the care of patients with any chronic medical condition.”

Addressing mental and physical health concerns at once can lead to better overall health outcomes. Physicians will now have the support of other medical staff, which will increase the resources and abilities of the practice, and ensure a higher quality level of care for patients. 

Although this integrative initiative is funded for only 2 years, Dr. Phillips is confident that the program will be financially sustainable over time. It will reduce costs of care by reducing the number of emergency hospitalizations and complications in physical health issues due to mental health concerns, and lead to a positive return on investment for the practice.

The payment system in place will allow growth for a positive return on investment over time, where the money spent on treatments and care will ultimately be less than the savings accumulated by offering these integrative services. In the future, Dr. Phillips anticipates that payment systems will be put in place to ensure organizations and institutions can provide comprehensive treatment options to patients that simultaneously reduce costs of care, accrue savings for their practice, and allow integrated behavioral health services in primary care practices to function sustainably.

More information on this program can be found at: