November 15 2021

Collaborative care: Taking the complexity out of healthcare benefits

By Accolade

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Healthcare is complicated. Navigating the maze of appointments, medical providers, treatment plans and healthcare resources can quickly become overwhelming. For employers, guiding your people through the labyrinth is no easier. But it doesn’t need to be that way. Adopting a collaborative care model alleviates the headache of healthcare administration and implements a team approach to ensure that your people and their families can easily access the care they need.

Integrating physical and mental health care

Collaborative care is a human-centered approach that focuses on the health of the whole person. This includes a person’s physical and mental health. Chronic medical conditions are often accompanied by depression or anxiety. Effective treatments of some physical conditions require behavioral modifications and mental health services. The holistic approach of collaborative care eliminates the silos between physical and mental health.

Think of it as a triangle of care. In this triangle, the medical provider, mental health provider and care manager are at each of the points while the patient is in the center. This expanded, integrated care team works together on the same plan to ensure the best health outcomes for patients.

Care managers play a critical role in the collaborative model. They’re the main conduit for connecting people to resources, providing referrals to specialists, communicating between teams and proactively following up with people to make sure they’re getting the health screenings and medications they need.

Although it’s been around for a while, collaborative care has only recently gained traction. Advances in technology and the pressures of the pandemic drove the collaborative model into mainstream practice .

Digital health records make it easier to access and share a person’s medical and prescription history with multiple providers. Computers and mobile devices make it easier for patients and providers to communicate through email, text and video.

The pandemic was a catalyst for virtual healthcare. It became a critical method of delivering primary and mental health support when people were unable to see their providers in person. According to McKinsey, telehealth utilization grew by 78 times during the pandemic. [1] Many people reported using virtual care for their own self-care in addition to that of their families.

From these experiences, virtual care has emerged as a cornerstone of the collaborative care model. While it doesn’t completely replace in-person visits, virtual care allows quick, easy access to a primary care physician (PCP), specialists or therapists and facilitates health screening procedures, such as lab work, on a more regular basis. The focus of true virtual care is on building long-term relationships between patients and providers.

Everyone benefits

The benefits of collaborative care are significant. Studies have shown that an integrated model of care results in significant enhancements to behavioral health, improvements in depression, reduced physical pain, improved functioning and better overall quality of life. It also has significant cost benefits, returning $6.50 for every dollar invested in collaborative care. [2]

Collaborative care is more important now than ever. Access to scarce healthcare resources is a growing issue. In the past decade, the number of physicians has not been able to keep up with increasing demand of a growing population and an aging demographic.

The pressures of the pandemic highlighted this problem across the nation. Physicians and other healthcare professionals are experiencing record levels of burnout, and many are leaving the profession.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC),[3] the U.S. could see an estimated shortage of between 37,800 and 124,000 primary and specialty care physicians by 2034. This is especially true in rural areas where there is a lack of mental health awareness, often due to there being fewer physicians available to care for those communities. It’s estimated that as many as 65 million people do not have easy access to a PCP.

A collaborative care model can extend the available resources into healthcare deserts and make specialists more accessible to those who need medical advice and tailored care. Mental health counselors can also help more people maintain their mental and emotional health by alleviating geographic limitations and any stigma associated with seeking those services in-person.

Building a new benefits model for employees

Collaborative care helps make sure that patients have access to the health care they need when they need it. For employers, collaborative care makes healthcare benefits more accessible. It also shifts more utilization into lower-cost delivery channels such as virtual primary care.

In today’s labor market, innovation around healthcare benefits access and delivery can be a differentiator for employers looking to hire and retain the best people. By bridging the silos of the fragmented U.S. healthcare system, collaborative care has been shown to improve outcomes and boost employee satisfaction.

Collaborative care empowers your benefits providers to help employees where they are at physically and mentally. It also adapts to fit their busy lives. The future is here. Let’s collaborate.

[1]     https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/healthcare-systems-and-services/our-insights/telehealth-a-quarter-trillion-dollar-post-covid-19-reality

[2]   https://aims.uw.edu/collaborative-care/building-business-case-cost-effectiveness-studies-collaborative-care

[3]   https://www.aamc.org/news-insights/press-releases/aamc-report-reinforces-mounting-physician-shortage