You know the old joke, which came first, the chicken or the egg? That’s how I view integrated care and my career. While the integrated care label may be dominating headlines — with providers across the continuum talking about treating the “whole person” — I think that my career has targeted an integrated approach from day one.
When I started out, my passion was simply giving back and helping others, and for the first few years that meant treating addictions and then focusing on mental health. I took a turn and spent several years in public health and chronic disease management. Before starting at Relias, I returned to my roots and worked for a community mental health center. And that’s when I realized that the world was finally catching up to what I’ve known since day one: Health issues don’t occur in a vacuum. The more we know about care, the more we can help each person in front of us.
So, while I head up product development in the health and human services and public safety segments here at Relias, I’m always pushing people to resist looking at symptoms in isolation.
Look at the Person, Not at the Symptoms
Hey, I get it. Whether you’re a social worker or an RN, you’ve been trained to stay in your lane. Running an addiction treatment program? Doing intake in a primary care clinic? Either way, you’ve probably got a battery of questions that you regularly run through. What I’d like to inspire in you, however, is the desire to make the extra effort to understand the whole person — not just their symptoms.
That’s tough given time and resource limits, but ultimately, in a value-based system, this approach pays off.
I saw this when I was working in public safety (did I forget to mention my early years studying criminology and working with adult and juvenile offenders?). Oftentimes I only had an hour to do an assessment so it was tempting to just pose questions and check boxes. “Were you involved in the criminal justice system? Yes. Probation or parole? Probation. How many years?” and so on. Without asking what led the person down that road, I found that I could miss the really good stuff that might help propel them in a better direction.
Here’s another way to think of it. When I was young, working in a group home, I had no idea what diabetes was. And why would I? I had been trained in behavioral health and that’s what I knew.
But if I would have had some knowledge of chronic conditions when I was taking residents grocery shopping, I could have better guided the choices a person with diabetes might make. "That's probably not the best food for you to choose. It's your choice, but let me share with you how that choice may affect your health." Because I didn’t know that, and didn’t know how to easily learn information like that, I had to be trained by nurses in the field who took time to sit with me and provide education. That was a waste of resources.
If I could have taken a few hours of self-paced training to better understand diabetes, hypertension, asthma, and cardiovascular disease, those nuggets of information would have helped me be a more effective social worker.
The truth is, if we all know more, we will all be more competent and better positioned to have meaningful conversations with our clients. Otherwise, if your client asks about diabetes management and you don't know, you’re going to say, "Next time you see your primary care doctor, be sure you have that conversation." The client wants to have the conversation right now and if you don't have answers, you’re not only missing an opportunity, you may lose the client.
Permission to Dig Deeper
Earlier I mentioned that my hope was to inspire you to push yourself to get to know the “whole person.” While that’s my hope, I consider it my job, and my passion, to bring that integrated approach to the team here at Relias. Whether it’s including medication side effects and risks of metabolic syndrome into our obesity course or including pain management education in our opioid treatment course.
The way I see it, how can we not talk about those things? Whether you’re dealing with clients with chronic co-morbidities or ones that simply have complex lives that involve changing mental and physical health issues, digging deeper to learn more will make you a better healthcare provider and help your clients achieve better health outcomes.
Harness the passion that led you into healthcare and funnel it into an approach that questions, explores, and treats the whole person.
If you work in addiction but want to learn about trauma, we can help. If you’re in public safety and want to better understand mental health, just ask us. If you’re just curious and want to know more for yourself and the population you serve, we have the tools to help. Bring your motivation to learn. We’ll help you get better.