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Integrated Care Thought Leader Series: Benjamin Druss, MD, MHP

Posted By Cheryl Holt, Thursday, September 26, 2013

(This blog post is a reprint of a piece by Cheryl Holt from August 6th, 2013. Click here for the original post. Reprinted with permission)

"That’s the next direction that [organizations] need to go, bringing substance abuse back into the discussion. We need to go past just the integration of primary care and mental health care to a more Whole Person Care."

It has been my pleasure to talk with Dr. Benjamin Druss for this edition of the Integrated Care Thought Leader Series. Having had the privilege to work with Dr. Druss on various integrated care projects over the past few years, I have come to respect not only his keen insight into what’s needed beyond the horizon for the care of people with behavioral health disorders, but the compassion and dedication he brings. His humility and brilliance are evident upon introduction; he’s a true visionary. Dr. Druss, my mentor and my friend, has provided inspiration to me in my work and outlook on the world of healthcare, integration, and beyond.

Dr. Druss, world-renown researcher in health policy, has made a significant contribution to healthcare and the integration of behavioral health and physical health. He has impacted the lives of many individuals as a result. As the first Rosalynn Carter Chair in Mental Health, Dr. Druss is working to build linkages between mental health, general medical health, and public health. He works closely with Carter Center Mental Health Program, where he is a member of the Mental Health Task Force and Journalism Task Force. He has been a member of two Institute of Medicine Committees, and has served as an expert consultant to government agencies including the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the Centers for Disease Control, and the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. He serves as professor at Rollins School of Health Policy and Management at Emory University.

Dr. Druss’s research focuses on improving physical health and healthcare among persons with serious mental disorders. He has published more than 100 peer‐reviewed articles on this and related topics, including the first randomized trial of an intervention to improve medical care in this population in 2001. His research is funded by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health and the Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research, and he serves as a standing member of an NIMH study section. He has received a number of national awards for his work.

Dr. Druss, Dr. Silke von Esenwein, and their colleagues at Emory University are currently conducting an exciting NIMH research trial, The Health Outcomes Management and Evaluation (HOME) Study. As described on the website: There is an urgent need to develop practical, sustainable approaches to improving medical care for persons treated in community mental health settings, this study will test a novel approach for improving mental health consumers based on a partnership model between a Community Mental Health Center and a Community Health Center. When this study is completed, it will provide a model for a medical home for persons with severe mental illness that is clinically robust, and organizationally and financially sustainable.

Dr. Druss received his bachelor’s degree from Swarthmore College in 1985, earned his medical degree from New York University in 1989 and later his master’s in public health from Yale University in 1995. He is also board certified in psychiatry. He trained as a resident in general internal medicine at Rhode Island Hospital and in psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine. Click here for more information about Dr. Benjamin Druss.

Advancement in integrated care through the years

Dr. Druss was one of the first to address the physical health concerns among people with serious mental illness and substance use disorders, particularly among the public sector populations in urban regions. During our discussion on integrated care, he addressed areas of change over the past 18 years that has had the greatest impact on the advancement of healthcare for people with serious mental illness. He described the world of Health Information Technology as a frontier that, over the past 10 years, has resulted in changing policies and procedures in healthcare. These changes have had significant impact on the ability for healthcare organizations to share information, resulting in improved care for patients.

Dr. Druss advises that the next stage needed for healthcare is to begin "broadly looking at other social determinants of health.” The focus should be on an approach to healthcare that is person-centered. The concept of addressing population health and creating a system of care will be a more effective approach to improving health outcomes moving forward. He recommends that substance abuse must be brought back into the discussion, and to go past just the concept of integration of physical health and mental health, toward a more "whole person care” approach.

What do you foresee for the field as we move forward?

Dr. Druss: Clearly there’s going to be major changes in how care is delivered. I think there’s a lot of opportunity moving forward with new public sector models, Medicaid, patients with medical homes, and also the promise of new technologies moving forward as well.

I’m very optimistic; I think things will certainly be very different five years from now. We’re in a period where things are evolving very quickly and we don’t know exactly what the world will look like, but I think we can say that things will look different—and that things will look better.

Research has to change as well. I’m mostly a researcher and lot of what we’ve been doing is slow-paced. The slow-paced process by which we develop a model, and then test it over a five year period. You apply for a grant and then you test it for five years, then it’s another two years before it’s published. So we’re going to have to be looking for more ways for understanding data and evaluating programs. I think the new technologies will help, their more wide-spread availability will help. Just as the health system needs to change—and is changing—health research is going to need to change as well.

The funding agencies still are gradually coming to that point. NIMH has a new program that they are looking to fund that looks at natural experiments out in the community. So I think that’s the sort of research that we’re going to need to see more of in the coming years—good, careful, thoughtful evaluations of some of the demonstration projects going on out in the community.

What barriers to integration to you currently see?

Dr. Druss: I’d say that a lot of community mental health centers are still on this part of the learning curve in terms of learning about integration, such as how potential partner organizations work, [such as] Federally Qualified Health Centers. [CMHC’s] often lack information technology infrastructure that makes it easier to do the work. There are some places, some community clinics, and other organizations that are out in front on these issues, that are early adopters, and there’s some that are trying to figure it out and hopefully will learn from the experience of those organizations that are further ahead.

Thank you, Dr. Druss, for your dedication to improving the health and quality of life of so many who live with serious behavioral health conditions. Click here for a list of research projects and publications by Dr. Druss.

Be sure to check back soon for our next Thought Leader, Larry Fricks, pioneer in the Peer Support movement.


Cheryl Holt, MA, CEO of Behavioral Health Integration Consulting, LLC, is an advocate for the integration of behavioral and primary healthcare for whole-person health and assists organizations in adopting a whole-health focus. She is active in social media promoting integrated care, behavioral health policy, and global mental health. She blogs regularly via the Behavioral Health Integration blog and manages LinkedIn's Behavioral Health Integration group and the Behavioral Health Integration page on Facebook. You can follow her on Twitter: @cherylholt, @BHPCIntegration, and @WorldMentalHlth

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Matthew P. Martin says...
Posted Thursday, September 26, 2013
Dr. Druss is working on the cutting edge of new research and seems to have a vantage point that allows him to see a little farther into the future than most of us. I think he is right that Community Mental Health Centers will need to partner with FQHCs as part of integrated care. Unfortunately, many CMHCs have little access to funding. In fact, when state and local budgets are cut, mental health care is usually the first to go. Hopefully, this will change in the future. Thanks for an excellent blog post Cheryl!
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