The Whole Person Care Model Is Seeing its Day in the Sun
By NCVC Staff | Published on Sep 19, 2023
In recent years, the concept of “whole person” care has taken center stage in healthcare discussions. The idea that primary care providers should offer comprehensive services addressing both physical and behavioral health is gaining momentum. This approach, deeply rooted in the biopsychosocial model, takes into account biological, psychological, and social factors in understanding health and healthcare delivery. Despite its current popularity, it’s surprising to realize that historically, medicine did not always prioritize a holistic approach.
The Mind-Body Connection
For centuries, the relationship between the mind and body has been a subject of debate. In the 17th century, philosopher René Descartes proposed Cartesian dualism, which posited that the mind and body were two distinct entities. This separation influenced the development of separate disciplines for physical and behavioral health that persisted for hundreds of years. Physical medicine advanced rapidly through discoveries in biomedical sciences, while mental illness treatment lagged due to challenges in understanding the complexities of the brain and psyche.
The Challenges of Integrating Whole Person Care
Understanding the historical context is crucial in addressing the challenges faced by primary care providers striving to deliver integrated whole-person care. The need for such care cannot be underestimated, as psychological problems drive up to 70% of primary care visits. Shockingly, 40% of those who die by suicide had visited their primary care physicians within a month of their tragic end. Extensive evidence also supports a bidirectional relationship between chronic conditions and psychological factors like anxiety and depression. Moreover, psychological distress has been found to weaken the immune system.
Primary care providers face additional challenges, including the daunting task of dealing with the opioid addiction epidemic, which was largely unprepared for until the mid-1990s. Lack of specific training in addiction management left many primary care providers grappling with severe addiction issues among their patients.
Primary Care: The Ideal Platform for Whole-Person Care
Primary care providers possess unique advantages that position them well to deliver whole-person care successfully. The first advantage is the longevity of the therapeutic relationship established with patients. In a fragmented and fast-paced healthcare system, this relationship offers patients a safe space to share their complete stories. It recognizes the importance of psychological well-being alongside physical symptoms and reframes addiction as a disease, reducing the stigma surrounding it. This provider-patient bond is the foundation of whole-person medicine and essential for its success.
The second advantage lies in the development of integrated care models that bring primary care and behavioral health professionals together. Through collaborative partnerships or co-located models, patients can access seamless mind-body care. These innovative models facilitate the exchange of patient-specific data and insights between the two disciplines, leading to more effective and comprehensive care.
Barriers to Overcome
It’s important to acknowledge that the barriers to delivering whole-person care are not solely the responsibility of healthcare providers or the delivery system. Patients also play a role in these challenges. Some individuals strongly adhere to the stigma surrounding mental illness and resist acknowledging the role of psychological, social, or spiritual factors in their health conditions. Cartesian dualism, deeply ingrained in their upbringing or prior experiences, provides them with a sense of comfort and security.
The Future of Whole-Person Care
Mounting evidence supports the positive impact of whole-person care on patient outcomes, cost reduction, and increased satisfaction for both patients and care providers. It is also linked to lower rates of burnout among healthcare professionals, leading to higher role and job satisfaction. While medicine has made considerable progress since the days of Cartesian dualism, its shadow still looms over patients, providers, and healthcare institutions.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated mental health difficulties and significantly challenged patients struggling with addiction. However, there is a silver lining. This crisis has brought the importance of whole-person care to the forefront, and there is hope that the model will finally shine brightly, overcoming the shadows of the past and emerging victorious.
For more information about mental health support and whole-health care, and to learn how NextGen Healthcare is advocating for mental health, please join our #NextGenMind campaign.