A Window of Opportunity: Intersecting the worlds of integrated health care, health disparities, and health philanthropy

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This post was co-authored with Rick Ybarra, program officer.

Hogg Foundation for Mental Health and Grantmakers in Health just released a special report titled, A WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY: Philanthropy’s Role in Eliminating Health Disparities through Integrated Health Care. You may be asking yourself: why is this report important? Why should funders read this report? Why should advocates, consumers and families pay particular attention to this report?

Though the report was the outcome of deliberate discussions with other foundations about health disparities and how integrated health care can be an effective approach to serving persons with both mental health and chronic health conditions, the implications and opportunities are much broader than just health philanthropy. It is about creating a more effective system of health care to improve the health and wellness of our culturally diverse populations, communities and the nation as a whole.

Why is this report important?

Although many health care advances have been made over the past years, health disparities still persist, affecting many racial and ethnic groups. Some of the reasons are related to stigma about mental health; difficulty accessing what is still a complex, fragmented system to get one’s whole health needs met; a lack of culturally and linguistically competent providers in all disciplines and a cohesive, robust provider network; and an archaic system that focuses on one singular health domain versus both the mental health and physical health of our populations. Successfully bridging the health care disparities chasm will help us achieve the “Triple Aim:”

  • Improving the patient experience of care;
  • Improving the health of populations; and
  • Reducing the per capita cost of health care.

In other words, overall health will improve. Healthy people. Healthy communities. An improved quality of life. Isn’t that the real goal we want for people receiving health care and for our communities?

Integrated health care is a promising pathway to address both mental health and chronic health conditions. Applying integrated health care within a cultural and linguistic competent framework has the potential to improve the health and wellness of racial and ethnic minority communities and persons with Limited English Proficiency.

Why should all funders read this report?

Funders are foundations, health plans, purchasers, and governmental agencies (local, state, federal) just to name a few. Funders are interested in outcomes, consumer satisfaction and effectiveness. Research suggests that if both physical and mental health conditions are treated simultaneously through integrated health care, health improves. In light of the research and health care reform, funders are exploring new models and approaches to health care and seeking opportunities to invest in a more effective service delivery system to address health disparities. This report highlights the rationale and examples of innovation implemented by the philanthropic community to address health disparities through integrated health care.

Why should advocates, consumers and families pay particular attention to this report?   

As health care system transformations continue to evolve across the nation and in Texas, key stakeholder mobilization and voice will be vital to ensure that the health care systems of tomorrow are truly providing integrated health care in a culturally and linguistic responsive manner. Advocacy and a strong policy agenda will be critical drivers to transforming the health care system. Communities will need to be engaged and deliver an effective and compelling message holding health care organizations accountable for the delivery of both physical and mental health treatment and effective coordination of services.

We are in the midst of an exciting yet complex transformation of our health care system which will impact these systems in a variety of ways: organizational tensions that result from a paradigm change; change in the scope of practice and the roles of the integrated health care team workflows; new technologies to share patient data across providers, such as patient registries and electronic medical records (EMR); use of behavioral health measurements at every encounter; new financing and reimbursement models; and a focus on outcomes. This report can serve as a “bridge” to improving the population health for all, but particularly for racial and ethnic communities who continue to experience health disparities, thus leading to improved health.

Everyone is entitled to the best quality health care. And the health care one receives should result in improved health, satisfaction with the health care received and health care provided at a reduced cost. Thus, we are back to the “Triple Aim.” In essence, getting to the heart of the matter will require a comprehensive cultural and linguistically centered integrated health care approach. After all, this is about you, your family, your friends and your community. What role will you play?

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