This summer, PCDC’s Performance Improvement team welcomed Laura Heath, MD, MA, MRCP, who had sought and received a New York Academy of Medicine fellowship — specifically to take part in PCDC’s behavioral health integration work.
A native of the United Kingdom, Dr. Heath studied at Oxford University, completed her MPH at Harvard University, and is a member of the Royal College of Physicians.
Below, she offers her insight and advice on integrating medical and behavioral health services.
How did you become interested in behavioral health?
When I was practicing as a doctor in the [UK’s] National Health Service, it became apparent very quickly that a significant proportion of the disease that I was treating was essentially preventable. Whether this was due to smoking, obesity, addiction, or unmet social needs — the list goes on — it seemed as if all too often we were firefighting as opposed to proactively addressing upstream needs. I became interested in the physician’s role in prevention and joined the behavioral medicine research team in Oxford.
Can you talk about your summer research project at PCDC?
I worked with the Performance Improvement team on its extensive behavioral integration work — specifically, creating resources to highlight the need for comprehensive, patient-centered care for chronic pain, an often-overlooked condition with significant morbidity and mortality. Lack of access to evidence-based care in this area is contributing to the opioid epidemic, for example.
What news or trends in behavioral health integration do you find exciting?
I am particularly interested in the novel ways to deliver evidence-based behavioral health interventions. There are many ongoing trials focused on novel, flexible delivery methods that may be more suitable for certain patients.
Given your medical perspective, what’s your take on why PCDC’s work is important?
A comprehensive, robust, and proactive primary care network is the vital foundation of a good health system. This is often overlooked when the health care environment is dominated by specialist care, pharmaceuticals, and biotech. PCDC’s work is vital in expanding primary care access across the United States.
What’s your advice for practices and providers that might be interested in integrating behavioral health, but unsure how or where to begin?
I would suggest looking at some of the fantastic, successful models that have been adopted — the East New York Health Hub is one example. It is also important to properly integrate new staff into the practice — ensuring that behavioral health professionals are involved in the social fabric of the team, that clinical space is shared equitably, and that team meetings and warm hand-offs become routine.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I am a keen runner and foodie. I spend a lot of time running around Central Park so that I can work up an appetite to enjoy the New York food scene!