Every September, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) sponsors National Recovery Month to increase awareness and understanding of mental health and substance abuse issues. As we commemorate those in recovery, we’re reminded that our work to deliver a holistic healthcare experience to patients has only just begun. This month, we urge the healthcare community to look beyond immediate, episodic care and take steps to tend to the entire well-being of their patients—biological, psychological, and sociological health included.

As healthcare providers begin shifting from episodic care to more comprehensive health management, they will need to get a better handle on the interplay between physical and mental conditions—taking a holistic view of patient health. If they don’t, there could be negative consequences for patient outcomes.

Mental health and substance issues can exacerbate physical illnesses, delay or even prevent long-term wellness. For example, if a provider is treating a post-surgical patient or someone who is experiencing pain, it is essential that the physician know if the patient has a history of substance abuse. Otherwise, the doctor could inadvertently prescribe narcotics that may trigger a relapse.

Similarly, the presence of depression could substantially impact a patient’s ability to recover from certain physical disorders, such as asthma or diabetes. For example, the patient may choose not to take medication or be apathetic about his or her care. Conversely, the physical effects of the chronic diseases could be exacerbated by the patient’s depression. As such, it’s critical for all of the patient’s providers to be aware of his or her depression diagnosis and medication plan so that an effective chronic disease treatment approach can be developed and implemented.

Robust technology is critical in bringing this type of diverse health information from all providers together to form a comprehensive view of the patient’s health. Historically, behavioral, psychological and clinical practitioners have not consistently shared information.  But with the expansion and maturation of health information exchanges (HIEs), this is changing. For instance, the Behavioral Health Information Network of Arizona (BHINAZ)—the first statewide HIE dedicated to behavioral healthcare—is leading the charge in enabling better information exchange between different groups. Our HIE communicates substance abuse and mental health data among behavioral health professionals, crisis providers and even some physician practices, which has enhanced care for the patients served by the HIE.

One of the ways we encourage more cross continuum collaboration is by receiving and sharing alerts when behavioral health patients call a crisis hotline, enter a treatment center or are admitted to or discharged from the hospital. These alerts allow providers to offer real-time input into care and follow-up with the patient to ensure no one slips through the cracks.

While organizations across the country are just starting to see the value in creating a 360-degree perspective of patient care, our goal is to make this the norm over the next few years. Download NextGen’s eBook, “Four strategies for more compassionate, complete behavioral health care,” and consider how your organization can take technology-enabled steps to move from treating your patients’ conditions to improving their overall health.

Michael ZentMichael Zent, Ph.D.
Managing Partner, The Behavioral Health Information Network of Arizona (BHINAZ)