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The increased awareness of the financial impact associated with social determinants of health coincides with expectations of the Affordable Care Act (HR 3590) to improve care while reducing costs. The integration of behavioral health providers (BHPs) into primary care has demonstrated improved clinical outcomes. This study was designed with 2 aims, including the evaluation of the financial viability of an integrated care model in a rural setting and the demonstration of incorporating practice-based research into clinical work. Method: A rural health plan caring for 22,000 members funded a pilot project placing BHPs in 3 clinics to provide integrated care. Patient utilization of medical services for 6 months following BHP services was compared with baseline utilization. Results: The BHPs treated 256 unique patients, with a total of 459 consultations. The percentage of patients receiving BHP services varied between clinics (Clinic A = 1.4%, Clinic B = 2.7%, and Clinic C = 3.9%). A between-clinic analysis showed differences in medical claims data between baseline and post-BH services. The overall effect sizes for reduced medical utilization for patients at clinics B and C were very large, Hedge’s g=-2.31 and -4.79, respectively. Utilization of 4 of the services (emergency, lab, outpatient, and primary care) showed the large reductions in their costs. In contrast, the data for Clinic A showed no change. Discussion: Patients receiving behavioral health services within the integrated care model may decrease utilization of medical services following treatment, resulting in cost offset. Potential reasons for variability between clinics are discussed.


Originally published in Families, Systems, & Health, 2017, Vol. 35, No. 2, 167–173

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