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The Marriage of Physical and Mental Healthcare: Why America Needs Therapists and Doctors to Work Together

The idea of marrying physical healthcare with mental healthcare may seem surprising. Mental health and physical health are often thought of as separate, with the healthcare system treating the brain and the body separately. But mental health issues significantly increase our risk of developing physical health issues and vice versa.

In recent years, studies have shown that collaboration between therapists and doctors is necessary for providing quality healthcare. It’s no surprise, then, that more and more American healthcare systems are beginning to integrate mental and physical health. Here’s why merging these two worlds is so crucial.

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What Does Collaboration Between a Therapist and a Doctor Look Like?

Collaboration between therapists and doctors is a process that requires them to establish a professional relationship where they work together to provide comprehensive care to a client.

A collaborative environment allows therapists and physicians to have candid conversations, brainstorm potential solutions, and reflect on alternative treatments for the client. This also means voicing different opinions, concerns, questions, and ideas about the treatment plan. In other words, the collaboration between a therapist and a physician is not intended to be a perfect alignment. Rather, it is a partnership that is open, respectful, energized, and purposeful.

Collaboration is one solution to the “split-treatment” model of mental health. Split-treatment is when therapists have to refer clients to a psychiatrist or physician for prescriptions, which can be frustrating for clients or cause the client to lose trust in the process.

Benefits of a Collaborative Care Environment for Clients

Many physical and mental health issues are related. For example, nearly 30% of people with a long-term physical health condition also have a mental health problem, such as depression or anxiety. On the other hand, people who are first diagnosed with a mental health problem are more likely to develop a preventable physical health condition, such as heart disease.

Despite these connections, mental illness is often viewed with a negative stigma, while physical conditions are seen as more serious or urgent. Collaborative care can make physicians more comfortable broaching the topic of mental health when they routinely work with mental health care providers. This is turn, helps to destigmatize mental illness because it becomes a normal part of overall care for clients.

In addition, treating physical and mental health conditions in conjunction offers important economic and personal benefits for clients, as it can make overall care more efficient and effective. Collaborative care clearly not only cuts down on costs for clients but also on their time spent at a healthcare provider’s office as well.

Benefits of a Collaborative Care Environment for Providers

When physicians and mental health care providers work together, it drastically reduces the chances of a misdiagnosis. When communication gaps are closed, providers are able to provide more comprehensive care that takes all factors into consideration. A client who has been properly diagnosed is much less likely to be readmitted for further treatment, saving providers valuable time.

There’s a financial benefit for providers as well. Combining mental and physical care has been shown to save up to 20% in expenditures. This is because collaborative care doesn’t rely on one individual to have all the answers. Instead, responsibilities are divvied out appropriately, creating a team that works togethering and removing the need to shuffle clients to and from separate providers throughout their treatment.

Finally, working collaboratively allows therapists and doctors alike to have accurate information about a client’s current and past medications, dosages, illnesses, and procedures that may affect their mental or physical health. Physicians and mental health professionals can then work together to create effective, individualized treatment plans for each client. As a therapist, one of the biggest benefits of collaborating with a physician is that the physician can help ensure that the therapy process is efficient and effective for your client.

Why America Needs Therapists and Doctors to Work Together

Sixty-eight percent of Americans go to their primary care doctors first to receive care for mental disorders, substance use disorders, and behavioral health issues. But primary care professionals are often poorly equipped to address these mental health concerns adequately.

Studies show that primary care doctors diagnose less than one-third of clients who suffer from mental health problems and provide acceptable treatment to less than half of those diagnosed. To bridge this gap, physicians are finding that the best answer is to collaborate closely with a mental health professional or integrate one into their practice. This collaboration or integration streamlines the process and allows providers to openly discuss whether a client’s symptoms result from anxiety or a heart issue. 

Tips for Collaborating with Doctors

Providers cannot treat physical or mental conditions without creating space and resources for the other. By working with physicians, mental health care providers can facilitate client care and help doctors implement proper mental health treatments. Yet, despite the benefits for all involved, many therapists do not routinely collaborate with physicians. Here are some tips on how therapists can better collaborate with doctors.

Establish Good Lines of Communication

Communication is key to collaboration. After seeing a client who was referred by a doctor, therapists should give a quick phone call or send a short note that covers their assessment and treatment plan to the referring physician. It’s helpful to establish what information needs to be exchanged between physician and therapist and then schedule times to regularly talk about clients and other pertinent matters. Taking the time to build and maintain a relationship with the physician is essential to successful collaboration.

Be Willing to Accommodate Different Approaches to Care

When therapists collaborate with physicians, they will likely encounter different professional styles. Understanding that physicians often approach care differently can be a critical factor in forming and preserving a collaborative agreement.

Get Additional Training as Needed

Therapists may need to get additional training to properly collaborate with a physician. A primary role of a therapist is to educate the physician about various mental health treatments and processes. In the same vein, therapists who collaborate with doctors should be open to learning about topics that expand their own knowledge and expertise.

Protect Your Client’s Confidentiality

Physicians may not be as accustomed to the higher confidentiality obligations that are imposed on therapists. Mental health professionals should remember to address the necessary privacy concerns before releasing or discussing confidential information with a physician.

Work with Physicians in Close Proximity

The more barriers a client must cross to get from their referring physician to a mental health care professional, the less likely they are to go. Therapists should aim to collaborate with physicians whose offices are physically close to their own.

Befriend Office Staff

Office personnel within a physician’s practice can help facilitate collaborative relationships. These staff also typically have strong connections with insurance companies, which can be beneficial if a partnership is formed. 

Connect with Clients

As stated above, most Americans currently seek mental health treatment from their primary care physician. Ravel Mental Health is an online booking platform that can help clients find a mental health professional who is particularly suited to assist with their needs. This is because the tool utilizes filters that allow clients to narrow their search by provider type, insurances accepted, gender, ethnicity, religion, language, modality, and more. 

Already partnered with a physician? Consider adding this information to your profile to let clients know you have an established relationship with a healthcare provider that can facilitate their journey.

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