Decades of studies have shown two sad, indisputable facts about people living with serious mental illness: they contract more chronic diseases and die younger than the rest of the population. In fact, the life expectancy of individuals with mental illness is 25 years less than the rest of the population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As behavioral healthcare providers we must help find solutions to reverse these higher-than-expected morbidity and mortality rates and determine our role in the solution.
These studies have revealed the reasons why the mortality rate of the mentally ill is so high. Contributing factors include deficits in primary and preventive medical care, lack of health insurance, under-recognition of illness, inadequate treatment, poor monitoring, the individual’s resistance to seeking care and being compliant with treatment.
Risky lifestyle choices, such as the use and abuse of tobacco, non-prescribed and illegal drugs, and alcohol; and poor nutritional choices increase the risks of chronic medical illness including coronary disease, diabetes, obesity and asthma.
AltaPointe recognizes the impact of medical conditions on psychiatric and mental health disorders and encourages patients to seek and use primary healthcare. For instance, we routinely document the patient’s medical history of conditions, symptoms and medications upon intake and update it at each contact.
As we identify medical conditions, we encourage patients to comply with medical follow-up. Each patient is asked if they have a primary care physician whose contact information we record. If they do not have a PCP, we give them information about local clinics; we do not recommend specific PCPs.
Once established with a medical provider, we ask the patient to provide consent to allow sharing of information that would impact overall care between AltaPointe and other providers. The treatment team follows up with all patients on the status of their medical conditions.
In addition, AltaPointe uses an online lab that permits immediate access to a patient’s test results for medication levels, blood chemistry, drug screens or any other special labs. Using this lab allows us to share the information throughout our continuum of care. We have a plan in place to improve how we share and coordinate medical information with PCPs.
A positive approach to encourage proactive primary healthcare helps us take better care of the whole person. As we move into a more integrated healthcare environment, we are beginning to look at more prevention of medical problems and take a more active role to make sure our patients’ PCPs are involved.
We believe that close collaboration between behavioral providers and primary care physicians will improve the quality of life that our patients so deserve.
Tuerk Schlesinger, CEO