ORLANDO, Fla – Fifty percent of all Americans with serious mental illness don’t ever get treatment. Countless others aren’t getting the support they need to kick chronic conditions, like obesity and substance abuse. Now there’s a renewed effort to provide behavioral health help right after a patient walks through his or her doctor’s front door.
For thirty-seven year old Heather Leppard her daily ride is one of the best parts of the day.
“I am moving and I feel happy,” said Leppard.
Even better? Over the past year, Leppard is down thirty-two pounds after years of struggling with her weight.
Leppard said, “I had seen an endocrinologist. I had taken weight loss drugs. I exercised. I watched what I ate.”
What finally worked? Her family doctor introduced her to a behavioral health specialist and weight loss support group based right in the doctor’s office.
Cerissa L. Blaney, PhD, the behavioral health director at UCF Health in Orlando Florida, detailed, “Having the doctor actually introduce us to the patient significantly increases the chances they are going to engage in services.”
At University of Central Florida Health, doctors say 70 percent of all patients who get an in-office introduction make appointments for follow-up care.
Maria L. Cannarozzi, M.D., the medical director of UCF Health, said, “We’ve had patients who have been able to turn around their psychological illness with a combination of medical therapy and support.”
Doctors say this model cuts down barriers to behavioral and mental health care. It reduces the stigma and slashes the wait time for referrals, often ninety days or more. Leppard was being treated for rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia. The weight loss had the added benefit of improving those conditions, too.
Leppard said, “I feel good.”
Doctors at UCF say they are able to control health costs with this model by relying on the university’s academic fellows as they train. Nationwide it’s hard to say how many health organizations are implementing this model, but one hundred groups recently received federal funding to integrate care.