Adapting Behavioral Health Integration to 21st Century Needs

At the start of my career, the standard of care for behavioral health integration was in-person, face-to-face interaction. As new ways to communicate have surfaced, the way we deliver care has also evolved. Today, both as a result of access but also now convenience, behavioral health treatment is often done virtually.

To keep on top of the trends, and in light of the access challenges inherent in our region, at Carolinas HealthCare System, we turned to technology to help alleviate these problems and reach more patients. Through a virtual care platform and telehealth services, patients from North and South Carolina can connect with a behavioral health provider from the comfort of home or during a visit with a primary care physician. By moving beyond the walls of the hospital and into the home and primary care setting, our dedicated team of behavioral health experts is able to help thousands of people access the quality behavioral health support they need.

I have always said that if we can save one life through this program, it is worthwhile. Two recent stories from our team prove to me that this approach is working:

  • One of our health coaches spoke with a patient who works in law enforcement and struggled to balance being tough and unemotional at work, and then loving and sensitive once he got home to his wife and children. He had never considered behavioral health as a potential treatment option. After assessing the level of care this patient needed, our team began to follow up every so often to check in on his mental health, and offered an outlet for this patient to voice his concerns and talk through solutions. This patient now sees the value in behavioral healthcare, and has taken to calling his health coach on his own after a particularly difficult day. He even plans to improve his county’s law enforcement suicide prevention program to help his peers realize the importance of behavioral health and break down the associated stigmas.
  • Another mental health specialist spoke with a patient who was having severe suicidal ideation, with a plan and the means to follow through with it. The specialist realized that the patient was in crisis, and knew that immediate action was needed to save the patient’s life. The specialist filed for an involuntary commitment, and the patient was admitted to an inpatient psychiatric unit to keep him safe. Once he was discharged, the patient proactively called the mental health specialist back and thanked her: the phone call that he received that day had saved his life.

The teams at Carolinas HealthCare System and our partner, myStrength, are working tirelessly to find innovative ways to reach more people in need, address access concerns and reduce stigma associated with seeking behavioral health resources through the virtual platform and integration with primary care facilities. Based on our success to date we are continuing to seek out new and innovative ways to improve the care experience for patients, and our team is working on a new Patient Console that will provide new resources, increase connectivity between the entire care team and provide additional opportunities for earlier detection of behavioral health issues. Through behavioral health integration, we are not only delivering superior care to our patients, but also helping our specialists identify mental health issues sooner and more nimbly.

Manuel Castro, MD is Medical Director of Behavioral Health Integration at Carolinas HealthCare System