Pandemic presents opportunity to explore new ways of treating mental health issues, group says

Posted at 4:20 AM, Apr 07, 2021

Studies have shown that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused more people around the globe to experience depression, anxiety and substance abuse. Now, a bipartisan policy center has created a task force to look into those specific issues and is proposing solutions that can help.

“The Bipartisan Policy Center is proposing that we advance the idea of integrating primary care and behavioral health services,” said Dr. Regina Benjamin, a former surgeon with the task force.

Benjamin is a doctor in a small town near Mobile, Alabama. She says in her own practice, she spends a lot of time looking for behavioral health specialists that can take patients in need of mental health care.

Part of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s new suggestions is to expand training to primary care providers so they can handle the treatment for mild to moderate mental health and substance abuse conditions. They also suggest bringing mental health nurses or psychiatrists into the same office as primary care physicians and have mental health providers available to provide care through telehealth.

“It would be so much more helpful if we had an integrated electronic health record that integrated with the psychiatrists or psychologists. Right now, those records don't talk to each other,” Benjamin said.

The Bipartisan Policy Center report also suggests moving to “value-based” care payment structures so doctors aren’t paid just for checking blood pressure but improving it.

The Center also wants to see Medicare coverage of telehealth permanently expanded.

“In the end, basically, this integrated system will improve access to services access to care. It improves the outcomes, it decreases the health disparities, it's cost-effective, it saves the system money and, at the end of the day, it helps us become a more healthy nation.”

The report mentions several states already moving toward physical and mental health care integration, demonstrating positive results and lowering costs through Medicaid.