Building the Bridge Between Mental and Physical Health: Integrated Care and Digital Solutions are Key

Mental and Physical Health 1

Once perhaps dismissed as a concept left to new-age thinkers, the mind-body connection is now well documented by medical researchers and physicians. Integrated Care can help to improve patient care and reduce health inequalities, reduce unscheduled hospital admissions and help people to manage their own health and wellbeing.

The importance of prevention and early treatment

The future of proper integrated healthcare must include digital care, particularly for behavioral health specialist services, which are quickly becoming more in demand. Investing in solutions that address patients’ health conditions earlier in the care pathway (ideally, in the primary care setting) places more emphasis on prevention and early intervention, thereby saving costs, resources and improving patient outcomes.

In previous blog posts we have shared evidence of the links between diabetes and depression, as well as numerous other chronic conditions that all too often result in comorbid mental health problems. Therefore, it makes sense to treat each patient using an integrated approach.

Treatment under conditions of comorbidity is difficult to achieve naturally‒ health systems are typically designed to deliver mental health services separately from general clinical services. Despite early inroads into integrated care there is a large discrepancy, for example, between resource allocation for physical and mental health.

Primary Care Providers Costs

Primary care providers should have the tools to offer mental health screenings to patients. However, at the primary care level, patients with chronic physical conditions and associated symptoms of depression and anxiety contribute to higher health care costs[1]. This is where online digital therapy comes in. With online therapy, GPs can assess patients’ needs and severity of illness to determine how much in-person versus online therapy is appropriate to treat their specific condition.

Specialist care needs to be brought into the fold in order to save costs and produce better patient outcomes. But how can this be done? First, behavioral healthcare needs to be given the same level of priority that standard medical care is given. Regarding the goal of reaching more patients and providing them with quick access to therapy, online solutions are the way to go. Easy to implement, cost-efficient and effective, digital therapy is the best way to treat patients with behavioral health conditions related to chronic illness.

Early identification of depression and anxiety in patients with chronic illness would decrease morbidity and permit quicker implementation of strategies aimed at improving quality of life. Early identification would also make patients stronger candidates for low-intensity online interventions.

Jorge E. Palacios, MD, PhD, clinical researcher at SilverCloud Health, writes in our most recent white paper, “the comorbidity between common mental disorders and chronic physical conditions is frequent, causes high levels of disability, and increases risk, all whilst incurring higher costs to health care systems that are currently ill-equipped to deal with the situation. Integrated care that includes digital innovations can be a potential success story within struggling health care systems and can also steadily improve those which have the resources but not the ideal care pathways in place.”

The future of integrated healthcare

Online programs are a vital part of the future of integrated healthcare. The successful implementation of such programs will make comorbid mental and physical conditions seem less daunting to treat and more manageable for both patients and those who treat them. Commissioning a company, such as SilverCloud Health, to provide evidence-based online therapy solutions that are accessible and cost-effective will not only benefit patients but will allow healthcare systems to adopt an even more tightly integrated approach to care, which would help achieve numerous goals as well as scale over time.

In the whitepaper, Dr. Palacios breaks down the problems with siloed care and makes the case for integrated care, particularly in cases of comorbidity. He gives examples of where integrated care systems are working to increase treatment access and improve health system management, then details a framework where digital therapies can contribute to a positive solution to this pressing issue.

To download the whitepaper, click here.

[1] Depression and anxiety symptom trajectories in coronary heart disease: Associations with measures of disability and impact on 3-year health care costs. Palacios, Jorge et al. Journal of Psychosomatic Research , Volume 104 , 1 - 8

Jorge Palacios smallDr. Jorge E Palacios is a clinical researcher for SilverCloud Health, as well as a member of the e-mental health research group at Trinity College Dublin. He is involved in several research projects, focusing on delivering internet-based psychological therapy to diverse clinical and non-clinical populations. He completed his PhD in Psychological Medicine, at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Neuroscience (IoPPN), King’s College London, where he worked on trajectories of depression and anxiety symptomatology in Coronary Heart Disease. He recently was awarded the Young Investigator of the Year prize from Elsevier and the European Association of Psychosomatic Medicine, presented in Barcelona in 2017. Dr. Palacios completed his medical degree in Mexico before moving to London to undertake a master’s degree in Psychiatric research, which he passed with distinction in 2012.

For a full list of his publications visit: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Jorge_Palacios3

Twitter: @docpalacios5