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The AMA’s Behavioral Health Integration Collaborative, coming on the heels of last week’s Executive Order, aims to help providers use telehealth to integrate mental and behavioral health services into primary care.

By Eric Wicklund

October 13, 2020 – Healthcare providers will be getting some help in learning how to use telehealth to integrate mental health services into standard pathways of care.

With a coronavirus pandemic and rising substance abuse rates plaguing the nation, the American Medical Association is launching a new collaboration aimed at helping providers add telemental health to the primary care platform.

The Behavioral Health Integration (BHI) Collaborative will bring together the collective expertise of the AMA, American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American College of Physicians, American Osteopathic Association and American Psychiatric Association.

“Without a clear roadmap for success, integrating mental and physical health services has been a challenge for medical practices,” AMA Immediate Past President Patrice Harris, MD, MA, said in a press release. “The AMA is committed to accessible and equitable treatment for behavioral, mental and physical health needs, and the BHI Collaborative will provide physicians with a proven playbook for implementing a holistic approach to physical, mental and behavioral health to meet the needs of all patients.”

The announcement follows a July study by the RAND Corporation, commissioned by the AMA and the Commonwealth Fund and published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, that identified challenges to behavioral health integration.

“Practices currently using behavioral health integration face cultural, informational, and financial barriers to implementing and sustaining behavioral health integration,” the study concluded. “Tailored, context-specific technical support to guide practices’ implementation and payment models that improve the business case for practices may enhance the dissemination and long-term sustainability of behavioral health integration.”

It also follows President Donald Trump’s “Executive Order on Saving Lives Through Increased Support for Mental and Behavioral Health Needs.”

The October 3 order calls for the creation of a Coronavirus Mental Health Working Group, as well as a plan to address the mental health impacts of the pandemic and orders to government agencies to maximize efforts to improve access to mental health services – including “increasing the availability of telehealth and online mental health and substance abuse tools and services.”

This, in turn, would include new grants for programs launched by state governments and other groups for “safe in-person and telehealth participation in support groups for people in recovery from substance use disorders, mental-health issues, or other ailments that benefit from communal support; and peer-to-peer services that support underserved communities.”

The BHI Collaborative, meanwhile, is building an online database of resources for providers looking to integrate mental health into primary care, including webinars and remote learning opportunities, best practices and tools for accelerating behavioral health integration, and tips for integrating telehealth into practice.

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