“Every patient, every person, must have a comprehensive personal care plan that addresses the whole person. That includes all of their problems and concerns and resources and fears and experiences and, essentially, incorporates into that those factors such that you've got a coherent plan for health…that makes use of all of that. So that if there are mental diagnoses, if there are chronic diseases, if there are acute problems, prevention needs, all of those are understood in the context of each other; a whole person plan of care.”

                   – Frank DeGruy, M.D., NIAC Chair                       

Mental Health Forum and Town Hall Meeting - AHRQ 2011 Annual Conference

Integrated behavioral health uses a patient-centered, whole-person approach. Patients and family members are partners in making decisions about their health care. The practice has a system in place for providers to develop a care plan with a patient, share it with the care team that includes medical and behavioral health clinicians who treat the patient, and follow up with the patient to track his or her progress.

Evidence shows that patients bring their behavioral health needs with them to the primary care setting. Primary care providers are often the first to see signs of behavioral health issues. Integrated behavioral health allows patients to start addressing those issues in a place where they already have relationships and feel comfortable.

A growing body of research shows how far reaching the benefits of integrated behavioral health can be on the patient experience. Here are some ways patients can benefit:

  • Patients with chronic health conditions are more likely to have behavioral health concerns, too. They often don’t improve until the behavioral health concerns are addressed.
  • Patients like the convenience of “one-stop shopping.” Whether their problem is emotional or physical or both, there is no wrong door.
  • Many patients referred to other places for behavioral health treatment do not follow up.
  • When mental health and substance use disorders are addressed, work-related productivity improves.
  • Treatment-seeking behaviors vary across races and ethnicities, as members of many culturally and linguistically diverse communities are unlikely to receive or seek behavioral health services. Integrated behavioral health may allow clinicians to provide services to an audience that otherwise would go underserved.

With regard to the patient, an integrated behavioral health practice should work toward:

  • Patient-centered care. A patient’s experience of transparency, individualization, recognition, respect, dignity, and choice in all aspects of health care.
  • Whole-person care. Care that is patient centered and addresses the full range of a patient’s medical and behavioral health needs, culture, values, and preferences. It helps patients become active participants in their own health care.
  • Coordinated care. Organization of patient care activities and information exchange between the patient and the provider, or among the patient and a broader care team.