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Skip Navigation U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Agency for Healthcare Research Quality

Mental Health & Substance Abuse

Full Title: Integration of Mental Health/Substance Abuse and Primary Care

October 2008

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Structured Abstract

Objectives: To describe models of integrated care used in the United States, assess how integration of mental health services into primary care settings or primary health care into specialty outpatient settings impacts patient outcomes and describe barriers to sustainable programs, use of health information technology (IT), and reimbursement structures of integrated care programs within the United States.

Data Sources: MEDLINE®, CINAHL, Cochrane databases, and PsychINFO databases, the internet, and expert consultants for relevant trials and other literature that does not traditionally appear in peer reviewed journals.

Review Methods: Randomized controlled trials and high quality quasi-experimental design studies were reviewed for integrated care model design components. For trials of mental health services in primary care settings, levels of integration codes were constructed and assigned for provider integration, integrated processes of care, and their interaction. Forest plots of patient symptom severity, treatment response, and remission were constructed to examine associations between level of integration and outcomes.

Results: Integrated care programs have been tested for depression, anxiety, at-risk alcohol, and ADHD in primary care settings and for alcohol disorders and persons with severe mental illness in specialty care settings. Although most interventions in either setting are effective, there is no discernible effect of integration level, processes of care, or combination, on patient outcomes for mental health services in primary care settings. Organizational and financial barriers persist to successfully implement sustainable integrated care programs. Health IT remains a mostly undocumented but promising tool. No reimbursement system has been subjected to experiment; no evidence exists as to which reimbursement system may most effectively support integrated care. Case studies will add to our understanding of their implementation and sustainability.

Conclusions: In general, integrated care achieved positive outcomes. However, it is not possible to distinguish the effects of increased attention to mental health problems from the effects of specific strategies, evidenced by the lack of correlation between measures of integration or a systematic approach to care processes and the various outcomes. Efforts to implement integrated care will have to address financial barriers. There is a reasonably strong body of evidence to encourage integrated care, at least for depression. Encouragement can include removing obstacles, creating incentives, or mandating integrated care. Encouragement will likely differ between fee-for-service care and managed care. However, without evidence for a clearly superior model, there is legitimate reason to worry about premature orthodoxy.

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Integration of Mental Health/Substance Abuse and Primary Care

Persons with disabilities experiencing problems accessing portions of the PDF file for this report should contact Janet Howard at (301) 427-1882. The accessible version of this report will be available by November 30, 2008.

Evidence-based Practice Center: Minnesota EPC
Topic Nominators: Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA); Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA); Office of Women's Health and Office of Minority Health, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)

Current as of October 2008

Internet Citation:

Integration of Mental Health/Substance Abuse and Primary Care, Structured Abstract. October 2008. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.


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