As our “Coffee and Conversation” blog series continues, Project Manager Caitlyn Johnson, LCSW sat down with Dr. Chad Rodgers, MD, FAAP, to delve into the critical topic of behavioral health integration. Dr. Rogers is a well-known Little Rock based pediatrician, and with his multifaceted role as the Chief Medical Officer at AFMC combined with his recent election as President of the ABHIN Board, he is recognized as a pivotal figure in the Arkansas healthcare community. Caitlyn and Dr. Rodgers explore the nuances of behavioral health integration, shedding light on the innovative approaches and strategies that are revolutionizing the way we approach healthcare. So, grab your coffee and join us for this engaging dialogue that promises to inform, inspire, and enlighten.
Q: What is your background?
[Dr. Rodgers]: I have been a pediatrician for 20 years but grew up in the medical world. My father was a family practice physician, and I was involved with organized medicine through groups like the Arkansas Chapter of American Academy of Family Physicians and the Arkansas Medical Society, even back in grade school. Medical school exposed me to different populations, but I felt most drawn to pediatrics, especially after a rotation at Arkansas Childrens Hospital. Pediatrics allows for a unique relationship development with not just the patient but the family as well. The prevention aspect of working with this population is important to me too because if we can identify needs early on, these patients can grow into healthy adults. After completing my pediatric residentcy, I joined a local private practice, which I still maintain on a part-time basis. As time passed, I sought new avenues to make a broader impact, leading me out of the exam room and into my current role as Chief Medical Officer at AFMC. AFMC is a healthcare quality company that performs reviews for medical necessity but also works to improve healthcare delivery through provider and beneficiary relations, communication and education, and seeking new opportunities to improve the health of Arkansans and beyond!
Q: What is your definition of BHI?
[Dr. Rodgers]: Integrating mental health into physical health not only enhances patient care but also enables us to identify the roots of behavioral health needs, often traced back to early developmental years and family interactions. If these needs go unnoticed, they can escalate, leading to a patient’s first encounter with behavioral health services to be during a crisis. Leveraging the PCP’s relationship allows for early identification, heightened psychoeducation, and crisis prevention, reducing the risk of severe injury or fatality. Behavioral Health Integration serves as a vital gateway to treatment that might otherwise remain inaccessible to patients and is, ultimately, better patient care.
Q: Why is BHI so important?
[Dr. Rodgers]: This model provides valuable education, benefiting both patients and healthcare providers. When providers are well-informed about their patients’ needs, it leads to substantial improvements in outcomes, even in chronic disease management which decreases provider burnout. The medical field is one of the highest professions at risk for self-harm so I view this approach to care to be crucial not only for patients but the care team as well. It changes the culture of the health team, making them more aware of their own mental health and allowing for sooner intervention that helps prevent burnout and leads to a healthier workforce.
Q: How has BHI influence your practice as a clinician? How has it changed your view on healthcare and mental health?
[Dr. Rodgers]: The integration of Behavioral Health Integration (BHI) concepts has brought several improvements to my practice. We now routinely incorporate mental health and Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) screeners during appointments. I’ve gained skills in conducting contextual interviews, which prove invaluable when interacting with patients and their families, helping me identify symptoms I might have otherwise overlooked. This increased my confidence in medication management, enabling us to provide more in-house treatment. My awareness of trauma and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and their impact on overall health has grown significantly, providing a new perspective on interactions with both patients and the broader public.
Q: What made you interested in committing to this board and mission?
[Dr. Rodgers]: My experience in healthcare over the last 20 years has shown how detrimental it is to have such an expansive chasm between mental and physical health and how many unmet needs it causes in each sector. I knew that a key driver for change is payment and unless we transform how we deliver services and pay for them, change will not happen on the larger level. Everyone in the mental health sector has a physical health need as well so there is a consistent crossover that I felt needs to be systematically addressed. Because I saw the same passion within ABHIN and aligned with their mission, I felt compelled to get involved and it has been very rewarding to be part of the creation of such a fast growing and needed organization.
Q: What specific needs did you see in AR that you thought a company like ABHIN could answer?
[Dr. Rodgers]: Arkansas faces substantial healthcare challenges, exacerbated by geographical and economic disparities. I find innovation to be key in addressing these challenges. ABHIN is well-positioned to enhance healthcare access through holistic community engagement, collaborating with faith-based organizations, educators, primary care providers, and other influential community figures. ABHIN’s role extends to providing essential education and raising awareness, making a significant impact on the state’s healthcare landscape by using creative outreach techniques to reach those in different sectors.
ABHIN sincerely thanks Dr. Rodgers for sharing his unique perspective on BHI. For his full bio and more information on the ABHIN, please visit our website at Board of Directors – ABHIN (abhinetwork.org)