Last year, long before COVID-19, Saratoga Hospital launched a pilot “collaborative care” program to help primary care physicians connect patients to behavioral health services. Today, hospital officials say behavioral health services are integrated into all eight Saratoga Hospital Medical Group primary care practices—a model that is proving invaluable in helping patients cope with the stress of the pandemic.
“Our world is changing irrevocably, and that’s bound to have a significant impact on mental health,” said Janice Prichett, executive director of behavioral health at Saratoga Hospital. “People are worried about their health, their loved ones and their jobs. Many are feeling sad, anxious, or isolated.
“Even those with the best coping skills are likely to need some support. This integrated, collaborative model makes it easier for them to get help.”
She said the model works, in part, because it recognizes the importance of patients’ trusted relationships with their primary care provider. Patients share their concerns with their primary care provider and, within 24 hours, are contacted by a licensed behavioral health professional.
Behavioral health services are provided remotely by Saratoga Hospital’s program partner, Concert Health, a national organization that helps practices deliver this integrated care. Services include mental health assessments, symptom management—with psychiatric consultation for medication, if appropriate—help with coping skills and other behavioral support services.
Because care is integrated with the primary care practice, behavioral health services are part of the patient’s electronic health record, according to Prichett. As a result, primary care providers can easily monitor patients’ progress. Saratoga Hospital and Concert Health providers can also consult on treatment and medication.
“Saratoga Hospital led the way in integrating behavioral health services in all of its primary care practices, and the Saratoga region is reaping the benefits of that foresight and commitment,” said Virna Little, chief operating officer of Concert Health. “When the pandemic hit, Saratoga Hospital already had the systems in place to ramp up services and provide care promptly despite a significant increase in demand.”
“During an unprecedented time, our primary care practices are in a unique position to identify and provide care for patients whose behavioral health needs might otherwise go unmet,” Prichett said. “That will make a difference for our patients, our providers and our community as a whole.”