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5 Strategies to Connect Primary and Behavioral Health Care

AMA report highlights next steps for behavioral health care integration, value of telehealth

February 22, 2022

A new report released this week from the American Medical Association (AMA) outlines how telehealth and other digital strategies can connect behavioral health and primary care.

The report comes as the health care community aims to address a growing behavioral health crisis and develop new strategies to better coordinate physical and mental health.

Persistent “workforce, financial, information and cultural barriers” stand in the way of reaching more patients with behavioral health needs, the report noted. The report identified telehealth and other digital tools as key components to integrate care.

“The demand for behavioral health services is significant and rising, but so is the potential for digital technology to support the integrated delivery of physical and behavioral health services,” AMA President Gerald Harmon, MD, said in a statement on Monday. 

The AMA and Manatt Health developed the report with a representative group of physician practices, large employers, health plans, and patient advocates.

The report’s key recommendations to support behavioral health integration across health care include:

  • Physician practices and health systems:  Use technology to address ‘siloed’ delivery of care between providers. Evidence-based digital health solutions can improve behavioral health diagnosis and treatment rates
  • Health plans:  Support and reimburse models that “facilitate care management and transitions of care for patients with behavioral health conditions”
  • Federal policymakers:  Increase federal funding for loan forgiveness and new residency and training programs that grow the behavioral health workforce
  • Employers:  Reduce out-of-pocket costs for employees seeking care by evaluating how and when to apply cost sharing, “including its elimination where appropriate”
  • Private or publicly traded behavioral health companies:  Work with stakeholders to develop national standards for behavioral health integration technologies and to generate robust clinical and economic evidence

“All stakeholders have a critical role to play in making accessible and equitable treatment that addresses peoples’ behavioral and physical health needs a more standard practice within primary care,” the report concludes.

HAP and Pennsylvania’s hospitals are focused on solutions to address Pennsylvania’s behavioral health crisis and to support care for patients across the commonwealth. This includes supporting access to behavioral health through telehealth. Learn more about HAP’s behavioral health priorities.

The report from the AMA is available online.