When psychiatric NP Brenda Reiss-Brennan started her independent family therapy practice in 1978, she began to get referrals from primary care providers who were unsure how to handle their patients’ mental health needs. Working with one patient at a time limited her ability to reach many people, so in 1984 she developed a model to train other nurses, primary care providers, and clinics in treating patients with mental illness. The model eventually caught the attention of Intermountain Healthcare, a nonprofit health care system located in Salt Lake City, Utah, which piloted a program featuring the model in its primary care settings.
The care model, which became known as Mental Health Integration (MHI), integrates the treatment of mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and substance abuse into the primary care system. Instead of handing out a referral to an external provider and losing patients to follow-up, the MHI model ensures that patients’ mental health conditions and general health care needs are treated in the same primary care practice. Patients receive education materials, are screened for suicide, and are provided a safe environment in which to discuss their mental health concerns. “Patients and families are treated with respect and confidence as mental health is normalized in their health care experience,” Reiss-Brennan said.
In addition to making access to treatment easier, the model has other benefits. According to Reiss-Brennan, patients with depression who are treated in MHI clinics are 54% less likely to visit the ED than patients in non-MHI clinics. Recent data also suggest that MHI is cost-effective.
“Our team-based model works so well and is such a good solution to how to navigate the complexities of health care today,” said Reiss-Brennan. “We’re focused on how fast we can get our clinics up and running and on encouraging other systems to adopt this model.” Read more about Reiss-Brennan’s model in the December Profiles column.