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Collaborative Care Can Decrease Mental Health Costs


I briefly scanned the Robert Wood Johnson synthesis report on mental and medical co-morbidity so I thought I’d summarize the highlights for the blog. If you’d rather watch the recorded web seminar you can hear it here.

The report relied on systemic literature review to look at the relative risk and mortality associated with co-morbid medical and mental health conditions. The looked at studies using structure clinical interviews, self-report, screening instruments and health care utilization data (diagnostic codes reported to Medicaid).

This is what they found:

  • 68 percent of adults with a mental disorder had at least one general medical condition, and 29 percent of those with a medical disorder had a comorbid mental health condition
  • These findings support the conclusion that there should be strong integration of medical and mental health care
  • Psychiatric disorders were the most expensive conditions to treat among Medicaid beneficiaries, but also the most common when combined with cardiovascular disease
  • Medical conditions and psychiatric conditions have a reciprocal risk relationship: having one disorder increases the risk for having the other
  • Both medical and mental disorders are associated with low income, poor education, early childhood trauma and chronic stress
  • Four modifiable risk factors are responsible for high rates of co-morbidity: alcohol and drugs, tobacco, poor nutrition and lack of exercise
  • The treatments themselves may worsen co-morbidity (somatic meds cause psychiatric side effects, psychiatric meds may cause or worsen medical conditions)
  • Public mental health clients die 25 years earlier than the average life expectancy (see Figure 4 above for the relative risk of six common psychiatric conditions)
  • Multidisciplinary team approach to treatment is most effective: fully integrated medical, mental health and substance abuse services

So instead of having a public health care system that is fragmented between freestanding clinics, we should have integrated clinics that follow a collaborative care model and that provide a broad range of services. For me this means that we can no longer afford to have disjunction of care between state agencies: correctional facilities and public clinics need to coordinate care for both medical and mental health conditions. This study describes my typical clinic population: poor, poorly educated, sick, traumatized and under chronic stress. They are at greater risk of dying and the most costly to care for.—–
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Our book comes out in May, 2011.

*This blog post was originally published at Shrink Rap*


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Richmond, VA – In an effort to simplify inpatient medical billing, one area hospitalist group has determined that “altered mental status” (ICD-9 780.97) is the most efficient code for use in any patient work up.

“When you enter a hospital, you’re bound to have some kind of mental status change,” said Dr. Fishbinder, co-partner of Area Hospitalists, PLLC. “Whether it’s confusion about where your room is located in relationship to the visitor’s parking structure, frustration with being woken up every hour or two to check your vital signs, or just plain old fatigue from being sick, you are not thinking as clearly as before you were admitted. And that’s all the justification we need to order anything from drug and toxin screens, to blood cultures, brain MRIs, tagged red blood cell nuclear scans, or cardiac Holter monitoring. There really is no limit to what we can pursue with our tests.”

Common causes of mental status changes in the elderly include medicine-induced cognitive side effects, disorientation due to disruption in daily routines, age-related memory impairment, and urinary tract infections.

“The urinalysis is not a very exciting medical test,” stated Dr. Fishbinder. “It doesn’t matter that it’s cheap, fast, and most likely to provide an explanation for strange behavior in hospitalized patients. It’s really not as elegant as the testing involved in a chronic anemia or metabolic encephalopathy work up. I keep it in my back pocket in case all other tests are negative, including brain MRIs and PET scans.”

Nursing staff at Richmond Medical Hospital report that efforts to inform hospitalists about foul smelling urine have generally fallen on deaf ears. “I have tried to tell the hospitalists about cloudy or bloody urine that I see in patients who are undergoing extensive work ups for mental status changes,” reports nurse Sandy Anderson. “But they insist that ‘all urine smells bad’ and it’s really more of a red herring.”

Another nurse reports that delay in diagnosing urinary tract infections (while patients are scheduled for brain MRIs, nuclear scans, and biopsies) can lead to worsening symptoms which accelerate and expand testing. “Some of my patients are transferred to the ICU during the altered mental status work up,” states nurse Anita Misra. “The doctors seem to be very excited about the additional technology available to them in the intensive care setting. Between the central line placement, arterial blood gasses, and vast array of IV fluid and medication options, urosepsis is really an excellent entré into a whole new level of care.”

“As far as medicine-induced mental status changes are concerned,” added Dr. Fishbinder, “We’ve never seen a single case in the past 10 years. Today’s patients are incredibly resilient and can tolerate mixes of opioids, anti-depressants, anti-histamines, and benzodiazepines without any difficulty. We know this because most patients have been prescribed these cocktails and have been taking them for years.”

Patient family members have expressed gratitude for Dr. Fishbinder’s diagnostic process, and report that they are very pleased that he is doing everything in his power to “get to the bottom” of why their loved one isn’t as sharp as they used to be.

“I thought my mom was acting strange ever since she started taking stronger pain medicine for her arthritis,” says Nelly Hurtong, the daughter of one of Dr. Fishbinder’s inpatients. “But now I see that there are deeper reasons for her ‘altered mental status’ thanks to the brain MRI that showed some mild generalized atrophy.”

Hospital administrators praise Dr. Fishbinder as one of their top physicians. “He will do whatever it takes to figure out the true cause of patients’ cognitive impairments.” Says CEO, Daniel Griffiths. “And not only is that good medicine, it is great for our Press Ganey scores and our bottom line.”

As for the nursing staff, Griffiths offered a less glowing review. “It’s unfortunate that our nurses seem preoccupied with urine testing and medication reconciliation. I think it might be time for us to mandate further training to help them appreciate more of the medical nuances inherent in quality patient care.”

Dr. Fishbinder is in the process of creating a half-day seminar on ‘altered mental status in the inpatient setting,’ offering CME credits to physicians who enroll. Richmond Medical Hospital intends to sponsor Dr. Fishbinder’s course, and franchise it to other hospitals in the state, and ultimately nationally.

***

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