Behavioral health integration became more than an academic concept to Judith L. Steinberg, MD, MPH, when she was transformed from doctor to patient earlier this year. The UMass Medical School health reform leader writes about her experience and what she learned, in a perspective piece published April 26 in Globe Magazine.
Dr. Steinberg, clinical associate professor at UMass Medical School and deputy chief medical officer of its Commonwealth Medicine division, learned that she may have kidney cancer just days after speaking about a new model of care for surgical patients aimed at meeting the needs of the whole person. Steinberg leads a team at Commonwealth Medicine that helps states and providers implement new models of care that focus on putting the patient at the center.
In her piece, Steinberg gives a detailed account of her experience, from a swift surgery to successful communication between providers and patient to what was missing: a behavioral health component.
“Receiving a diagnosis that would likely impact my quality of life — perhaps even my survival — was not easy. Starting with those words in my urologist’s office, my mortality was staring me in the face, and I worried for my husband and children. In those moments, it would have been particularly helpful to have easy access to a behavioral health clinician. I really could have used that kind of help,” Steinberg wrote.
Studies have shown that integrating patients’ behavioral health needs, whether they be associated with mental health, addiction or behavior, improves health outcomes and reduces costs, wrote Steinberg.
“My tumor was completely removed, no further treatment was needed, and I have a good prognosis. For all this, I am grateful. But the outcome does not change what I found missing during my experience as a patient,” Steinberg wrote. “Let’s face it, caring for the entire individual — her head as well as her kidneys — is just good care. The kind we all want for ourselves and our families.”