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Editorial: Toward better wellbeing

Medical professionals have long been aware that their patients may have mental health struggles but without systems to offer a more holistic approach, both parties may feel helpless.

Highgate Medical Group, News Refresh editor Scott Scanlon recently wrote, is the first primary care practice in the region to offer more mental health resources in its two offices. Support is provided by TCD Medical, another Amherst company that works with patients with behavioral health needs and chronic conditions.

Founded in 2017 by Dr. Vernice E. Bates, president of the Dent Neurologic Institute in Amherst, its Behavioral Health Integration Program is capable of meeting patient needs between primary care visits.

The concept sounds simple enough: study the person in front of you as a whole human being, contending with the life’s ups and downs. When necessary, recommend specialized care to address situations that may impede quality of life and eventually reduce physical health.

The assistance can be life-enhancing, if not lifesaving in addressing patients who might be dealing a range of problems, including depression, anxiety, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, eating disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The method of integration has caught on with about one dozen other practices that have enlisted TCD’s services.

Health insurers are responding. Medicare and Medicaid have relied upon a flawed system based on fee-for-service payments. That system is changing into a value-based model that rewards health care providers who deliver better patient outcomes.

Medicare last year changed insurance codes to enhance payments for primary care practices that establish connections with providers such as TCD. Patients do not have to pay extra.

Embracing the model could have a payoff: Statistics show the high cost of delayed and avoided behavioral care at $406 billion last year alone, according to the Milliman employee benefits research group. The hoped-for result of change is a reduction of senior citizens over medicating or young people dying from opioid misuse.

A person’s overall health involves much more than instruments can measure. That is why medical practices should be encouraged to adopt programs addressing other facets of well-being, including mental health.

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