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Bringing Behavioral Health into the Care Continuum

The latest TrendWatch report from AHA makes the case for better integration of behavioral health care into the broader continuum of health care to improve the quality of care and and reduce costs. The report highlights the prevalence of behavioral health disorders, including substance abuse:

  • Nearly half of all Americans will develop a mental disorder during their lifetime while over a quarter will suffer a substance abuse disorder.
  • One in four Americans experience a mental illness or substance abuse disorder annually.
  • While behavioral health disorders occur more often in adults, children are not immune. Mental health conditions were the 4th most common cause for child hospitalization in 2009.
  • Behavioral health disorders often co-exist with physical health conditions, where the mental and physical disorders are risk factors for each other and complicate treatment.
  • Patients with co-morbid mental and physical health problems have higher health care costs, with the cost difference attributed to the physical medical issue.
  • Patients with combined mental and physical conditions have a higher risk of readmission after hospital discharge.

Cost is a common barrier to patients not receiving mental health care. The fragmented delivery of behavioral health services and provider shortages also impede effective treatment. Health reform is expected to expand health insurance and parity coverage of behavioral health treatment, increasing demand for services while making providers more accountable for coordinated and more effective and efficient care. It is likely the demand for behavioral health services will exceed capacity, making improved integration of behavioral and physical health services even more critical.

The treatment settings for behavioral health care are briefly reviewed, and several case examples are featured. The report ends by raising key national policy questions that will need to be addressed for improved delivery and financing of behavioral health services.

American Hospital Association. Bringing behavioral health into the care continuum: opportunities to improve quality, costs and outcomes. TrendWatch, Jan. 2012. http://www.aha.org/research/reports/tw/12jan-tw-behavhealth.pdf

Posted by the American Hospital Association Resource Center, (312) 422-2050, rc@aha.org.

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