Care Transformation Center Blog

3 ways to prepare for outpatient behavioral health growth


Kelsey Mahler

Last week, I wrote about the states expecting to see a dramatic increase in the prevalence of health and behavior assessment codes in the next 5 to 10 years. (You can also see your results in our Outpatient Market Estimator tool).

Are your outpatient clinical teams ready to handle this challenge? Here are three ways to prepare.

1. Train PCPs to screen for and treat behavioral health disorders

The Cherokee Health Systems in Tennessee began integrating mental health and primary care 30 years ago. Cherokee typically embeds a licensed behavioral health provider—such as a clinical psychologist or clinical social worker—in the primary care team to help patients manage stress, depression, or make positive lifestyle changes.

To achieve this integration of care, Cherokee had to train their primary care physicians to rethink their role and offered an internship for the team’s psychologists to prepare them to work closely with primary care physicians.

IMPACT also uses a team of support for the primary care physician, including a care manager and consulting psychiatrist, to help detect and treat depression in primary care.

2. Use social workers, non-clinical individuals, and community partners for additional support

After University of Michigan Health System discovered it needed more care managers skilled in engaging complex behavioral health patients, it shifted its staff mix from more nurses toward more social workers—who have experience with behavioral health care patients and can readily triage patients to the right support.

Finger Lakes Health System Agency developed an internal training program where care managers and social workers share best practices in peer forums. This enables more staff members to gain experience in caring for more complex patients, as well as identify the right resources for social and behavioral needs.

3. Establish a patient mentoring program

Patients' peers and family members serving as mentors can often offer detailed, practical guidance on chronic disease and behavioral health care management—at no cost to the health system.

To more actively involve friends and family members in patient care, leaders at Sharp Memorial Hospital in San Diego, Calif., implemented the Patient Care Partner program. After six months they expanded the program hospital-wide due to its success. Although this program was inpatient based, peer programs for chronic disease management are successful in the outpatient setting as well.

The Kennedy Center, located in Connecticut, connects patients receiving mental health services with others in recovery. Since these peer mentors have successfully maintained employment and managed their illness, the program focuses specifically on supporting mentees in their return to work.

The John George Psychiatric Pavilion’s Peer Mentor Program, which is funded through the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA), has successfully reduced the number of mentees returning to the Psychiatric Pavilion by 68% in just six months.

More ways to proactively manage behavioral health

Read or download our research briefing to see how your peers are detecting behavioral health needs early by:

  • Screening in the primary care setting
  • Using care transitions to detect and support behavioral health
  • Collaborating with other providers to build a robust behavioral health continuum

Then, check out our series of white papers delving into strategies for managing specific populations, such as pediatric and perinatal patients.



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The impact on your region

See the increase in health and behavior assessment codes in your state in the next 5-10 years. View the map »