Daina Danovitch, MD
Daina Danovitch, MD

How this holistic approach combines primary care and behavioral health

Finding affordable mental health care can be challenging for many, and locating a provider who accepts insurance can be extremely difficult. To address this issue, Saint John’s Physicians Partners (SJPP) established the collaborative care program in 2017—to bring patients better access to mental health services.

“Collaborative care embeds a behavioral health therapist in primary care offices, and an off-site psychiatrist reviews patient care to provide medication recommendations to the team,” says Daina Danovitch, MD, medical director of Behavioral Health Integration at SJPP. “They work closely with primary care physicians to treat patients needing mental health services.”

At SJPP, physicians routinely screen for behavioral health conditions like depression and anxiety. When they identify a patent with mental health issues, they have an immediate professional resource available to contact the patient for follow-up. The consulting psychiatrist works closely with the therapists and primary care doctors to manage any medications prescribed, such as antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications and other pharmacologic interventions. Therapists provide short-term one-on-one therapy, and the course of treatment is generally between six to ten sessions per patient. Patients who show progress in their treatment plan are then discharged from the program or referred if additional resources are needed.

The collaborative care program has seen an exponential increase in patients since its inception. What began with just one therapist within a primary care office has grown to six therapists who see patients referred by primary care physicians, oncologists, obstetricians and pediatricians.

What sets this program apart?

“Our therapists actually work in the offices of referring physicians. They communicate closely with those doctors for the benefit of patients during their treatment.”

Dr. Daina Danovitch

Another critical difference is affordability. Many independent therapists in the community don’t accept insurance even if patients have it, so the cost of therapy can be unaffordable. In the collaborative care model, these services can be billed directly to insurance, usually translating into much lower prices. Since its founding, the program has served over 2,000 patients who may have otherwise received no behavioral health services. Due to its incredible success, SJPP plans to add two additional therapists.

Several studies show collaborative care models where therapists work closely with referring physicians to manage mental health issues result in superior patient outcomes. “The hardest thing about my job was seeing patients struggling with mental health issues and having to send them to really poor options,” Dr. Danovitch notes. “It’s so gratifying to get these patients the help they need when they need it.”

A version of this article appeared in an issue of the Palisades Neighbor.