John Santopietro, MD, chief clinical officer for behavioral health at Carolinas HealthCare System
Martha Whitecotton, senior vice president and co-leader of behavioral health at Carolinas HealthCare System
Carolinas HealthCare System has put together a virtual network of providers giving patients quicker, easier access to behavioral health experts who can be accessed at the primary care doctor’s offices.
“One of the reasons people with behavioral health conditions do not get help is they have to wait too long to get an appointment,” said John Santopietro, MD, chief clinical officer for behavioral health at Carolinas HealthCare System.
“A patient who comes to see me for sleeping problems may need evaluation for depression,” said Daniel Senft, DO, board-certified family medicine physician at Lincoln Family Practice, which began offering the service in October of 2014. “With this service, I can offer them a chance to immediately speak with a specialist right there, right then, in the comfort of a familiar place.”
Through the telemedicine program, the patient speaks with a behavioral health professional over a computer screen. The professional – a psychiatrist, counselor or licensed clinical social worker – assesses the patient and coordinates the care, including helping with medication issues and making referrals to outside services.
Daniel Senft, DO, board-certified family medicine physician at Lincoln Family Practice
The program also includes a health coach, who calls the patient to follow up with medication changes and physician visits. The patient’s primary care doctor is also able to complete consults via the electronic medical record with a psychiatrist or pharmacist with expertise in behavioral health. In the near future, the team will be offering access to online therapy.
“The use of primary care within our system is crucial,” Dr. Senft said. “Patients trust their primary care provider and will seek support for behavioral health concerns in this setting. Having this service integrated into my practice helps me better serve my patients.”
Martha Whitecotton, senior vice president and co-leader of behavioral health at Carolinas HealthCare System is working with Dr. Santopietro to create more opportunities for people to access behavioral health services. “When mental health is integrated into primary care, people can access mental health services immediately, in a setting where stigma is minimized; improving their experience of care as well as our ability to treat the whole person, addressing both mental and physical concerns,” Whitecotton said. “This is particularly important for a set of patients who have generally been marginalized.”
Carolinas HealthCare System plans to offer the service in all of its more than 200 primary care practices.