The Impact of Behavioral Health Services on Hospital Outcomes

The Impact of Behavioral Health Services on Hospital Outcomes

The healthcare industry has undergone tremendous change over the past couple of decades. Healthcare reform, changing reimbursement models, and increased competition have forced hospitals and health systems to rethink how they deliver care. Many are now looking at behavioral health as a way to improve outcomes while also reducing costs.

What are Behavioral Health Services?

Behavioral health services encompass mental health care, substance abuse treatment, and overall efforts to help people adopt healthy behaviors. These services can be administered on an inpatient or outpatient basis. They include psychotherapy, counseling, group therapy, medication management, and more.

Some hospitals and health systems have their own behavioral health departments. Others partner with outside mental health management companies like Horizon Health that provide everything from staffing to program development and management. Regardless of how they are delivered, behavioral health services are becoming a bigger component of healthcare.

Why the Increased Interest in Behavioral Health?

There are a few key reasons why hospitals and health systems are more interested in behavioral health today:

Prevalence of Behavioral Health Issues

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 1 in 5 American adults experience mental illness during any given year. The most common conditions include anxiety, mood disorders, attention deficit disorders, and substance abuse disorders. With so many Americans affected, there is increased demand for behavioral health services.

Impact on Physical Health

Research shows that behavioral health has a direct impact on physical health. For example, people with untreated depression have a 40% higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease. They also have higher risks for diabetes and stroke. Managing behavioral health helps minimize risks of various physical health problems.

High Costs

On average, adults with untreated mental health disorders incur healthcare costs that are 75% to 200% higher than adults without those disorders. They are also much more likely to have repeat hospitalizations. Treating behavioral health helps reduce costs over the long term.

Government Reimbursement Models

Medicare reimbursement models are evolving to tie payments to quality of care and costs. Under programs like Medicare’s Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program, hospitals with high rates of repeat admissions are penalized. Managing behavioral health helps reduce readmissions.

How Behavioral Health Services Impact Hospital Outcomes

With increased demand for behavioral health services, more hospitals have incorporated them into care models. Research shows that doing so positively impacts key hospital outcomes:

Reduced Readmissions

Studies show that incorporating behavioral health services significantly reduces hospital readmissions. Patients get the mental health support they need after being discharged, making them less likely to return prematurely.

Shorter Lengths of Stay

Managing behavioral health also helps reduce lengths of stay in hospitals. Patients who receive behavioral health interventions and coping strategies tend to feel well enough to be discharged sooner.

Lower Costs

With reduced readmissions, shorter stays, and fewer inpatient days, behavioral health services have been shown to lower costs substantially.

Better Patient Satisfaction

Healthcare is shifting toward patient-centered models of care. Behavioral health services align perfectly with that shift. Patients appreciate having their mental health needs addressed. They also feel better prepared to care for themselves after discharge.

Improved Care Quality

Perhaps most importantly, behavioral health services improve overall care quality for hospitals. They allow for earlier identification and intervention with behavioral health issues. Patients get help managing conditions that could otherwise complicate care.


Between regulatory requirements, value-based care, and consumer demand, the healthcare industry continues to evolve. As part of that evolution, behavioral health management is becoming a more prominent component of quality care. Hospitals and health systems that don’t yet offer behavioral health services should strongly consider it.

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