Improving patient outcomes is a goal for providers and insurance companies alike. For providers, taking care of patients is the essence of what they do, and medicine is always seeking ways to make improvements that benefit patients. For insurance companies, the reasons are more financial, but similarly essential when it comes to improving patient outcomes. “The best evidence suggests that health insurance is associated with more appropriate use of health care services and better health outcomes for adults.”[1]

Even with access to health insurance, there are still significant barriers to individuals receiving quality mental health care. In our article “Mental Health Parity (20 Years Later),” we discussed various ways that mental health coverage is not on par with medical coverage. And in our article “Proactive Mental Health,” we discussed the disparity in how insurance companies view physical and mental health screenings. These issues are all the more concerning when we look at the incidence and prevalence of comorbidity (i.e., the presence of two or more illnesses that can worsen the course of both) between mental and physical health.

Research has shown that “the simultaneous presence of two or more diseases will worsen the prognosis of all the diseases that are present, lead to an increasing number (and severity) of complications and make the treatment of all of them more difficult and, possibly, less efficacious.”[2] In short, if the goal is improved patient outcomes, providers and insurers alike simply cannot view physical and mental health as entirely unrelated.

Comorbidity cuts both ways. People with mental disorders are less likely to receive preventive services and are at greater risk for developing chronic conditions. And people with chronic conditions are more likely to suffer from mental health disorders. “When mental and medical conditions co-occur, the combination is associated with elevated symptom burden, functional impairment, decreased length and quality of life, and increased health care costs.”[3] As such, the issue of comorbidity should be a concern for both providers and insurance companies.

“Research by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows nearly one-third of patients diagnosed with diabetes also experience depression, while those with depression are at higher risk of developing a chronic condition, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.”[4] Research has also shown that mental health issues such as depression and anxiety can lead to heart disease, both due to physiologic effects such as increased heart rate and blood pressure as well as unhealthy behaviors such as smoking and an inactive lifestyle.[5]

Bottom line: Mental health screening and treatment not only improves the quality of life for patients, it can also help reduce risk factors for chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. While medical doctors may not feel qualified to diagnose mental health issues, they can take steps to understand the impact on physical health and provide simple screenings, patient education and appropriate referrals. Something simple, like utilizing the MHT App, is an easy way for providers to begin having conversations with patients on the critical role mental health plays with regard to their overall health.  Likewise, insurance companies would be better served from a financial perspective to encourage mental health screenings and improved access to mental health services.






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