Two weeks ago, the Collaborative Family Healthcare Association (CFHA) held its annual conference in Austin. This year’s theme was “The Future of Integrated Healthcare: Activating Clinicians, Consumers, Researchers, and Policy Makers.”  It became perfectly clear to me; integrated health care is how care must be delivered!

There is tremendous momentum to deliver both physical health and behavioral health care in a more coordinated manner, using a team-based, person-centered approach.Integrated health care can reduce the stigma associated with treatment for mental health conditions. Integrated health care can also promote patient education, prevention and early intervention. It can promote population health, including healthy people, healthy families and healthy communities. New health care policies being implemented will also emphasize performance-based care versus encounter-based care.

Integrated health care can help improve care for potentially millions of people who have both medical and mental health conditions. The fragmented approach to health care is inefficient, ineffective, difficult to measure and very costly. And I am not referring to just the dollar cost. The real cost is seen in the impact on an individual living with poor health, the societal contributions lost due to poor health, the loss of human life and the toll on families and communities.

Many changes must take place to truly have an integrated care health care system: strong policies in place to support programs, and effective programs to support the integrated practice and approach to providing coordinated care. One of the most important elements, if not the most important, is to focus on the person and successfully engage individuals in their health care. This does not come in the form of a pill or program. It’s the human contact and connection we make with one other.  Let’s not forget that the illness or condition does not define the person. People can and do recover. Integrated health care fosters and promotes recovery from physical health and mental health conditions.

If implemented locally, statewide and nationally, we will be a nation of healthier people because of it.