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How To Integrate Mental Health with Primary Care

Posted by Sam Rodney-Hudson on Sep 27, 2019 12:14:43 PM

Worldwide, mental health conditions are growing to mammoth proportions. Depression currently affects 300 million people, schizophrenia another 23 million, and dementia an additional 50 million. In the U.S. alone, one in five adults grappled with mental illness in 2018. 

Emotional health significantly impacts on an already overly strained health system, making value based care more difficult to achieve.


To complicate matters, the U.S. has traditionally embraced a medical model that separates behavioral health from physical well-being. Care coordination for conditions is extremely complicated, and patients undergo a difficult process to get the help they need.

However, any medical system trying to implement value-based care needs to address their patients’ mental health. Otherwise these establishments risk losing revenue and reimbursements from payers like Medicaid.

Yet the challenge remains. How can we integrate mental health services with primary care to ensure patients receive holistic treatment?

Patient centered care with non-integrated treatment

Almost a quarter of patients nationwide report that they weren’t able to obtain the mental health treatment they needed. Certain states like Utah, for instance, report a 31 percent failure rate. 

All this points to inherent difficulties within mental health services. For one, emotional wellness programs are challenging to design in a patient centered way. As a result, patients can’t always get the care they need, leading to poorer patient reported outcomes.

Plus, health systems have struggled to design programs that integrate with primary health care. Because of this, care coordination is difficult and whole-person care for mental illness is nearly impossible.

When policies and regulations get thrown into the mix, the issue grow even more complicated. Difficulty ensuring safety, privacy standards that meet HIPAA regulations, and quality of care often limit any innovation within mental health services. The result is that patients receive care that complies with regulations but doesn’t always meet their needs.

Uniting digital tools with mental health services

Melon Health has spent significant time developing solutions to assist people self-managing mental illness and other non-acute chronic diseases. 

Our experience partnering with providers, to help patients help themselves, has provided us with invaluable insights. For instance, loneliness is consistently linked back to cognitive and emotional decline. Digital health tools need to provide patients with a sense of community and belonging. 

That’s why Melon’s programs center around fully integrated online peer support. Care teams provide an engaging, educational, motivational, and empowering experience for users. By extending their reach into patient’s conditions, patients receive the support they need to counteract their illness.

What this looks like in real life

One initiative has been the establishment of a bespoke program targeting individuals with Chronic Schizophrenia. The goal of this program, Waka, is to support those with mental health conditions while also integrating with primary care. In this way, they benefit from a whole-person care approach, allowing them to address all contributing factors to their illness.

Another innovation is Melon Health’s platform that supports individuals with various chronic conditions. This program is specifically tailored to assist individuals suffering from mild to moderate mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. Again, this platform coordinates with primary care so that patients can get the help they need anytime, anywhere.

As a result of these programs, primary care clinicians can help improve patients’ mental health conditions. They can also gain valuable metrics to prove the value of their services such as better K10 scores.

By resolving existing pressures between mental health and primary care, these programs advance the future of health care. This will provide a foundation for others interested in improving behavioral and emotional health.

Benefits of digital tools for the future of mental wellness

For those seeking new models that address mental health, it’s important to look for programs where patients are key stakeholders. Patient input during the design of the program as well as the development and implementation is critical.

Their input and advice enables digital mental health services to meet their needs in the ways that work best. A collaborative design model like Melon gives patients a voice. This allows them to reframe the conversation surrounding mental health and its challenges. This also gives medical systems to obtain better metrics, which proves the value of mental health services they offer.

Digital tools can also help primary care clinicians establish mitigation strategies. As a result, medical staff can improve the quality without unsafe care delivery or risky policies. 

Here’s the bottom line. Digital tools that integrate primary care and mental health services may be the key to cutting costs and improving patient retention. They also have the potential to establish whole person care for cognitive illnesses. 

Topics: emotional wellness, whole person care, behavioral health

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