Don't overlook behavioral specialists when diversifying your primary care team

By Matt Kuhrt

Primary care practices have trended toward hiring a wider array of non-physician staff members, but the key area of behavioral specialists could use more attention, according to a story in Forbes.

More than half the family physician practices in the United States have embraced the addition of nurse practitioners on their teams, according to data from the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine. The two main drivers of this trend appear to be the ongoing shortage of primary care physicians, as well as the industry's move toward performance-based payment models, per Forbes.

At the same time, however, only about one in five family physician practices has added a behavioral specialist to its team, which may represent an untapped opportunity.

The shift toward value-based care has highlighted areas where the fee-for-service system has historically left patients underserved. For example, the management of chronic conditions has become a major area of concern for healthcare providers, as this type of care works best when patient engagement is high, FiercePracticeManagment has previously reported.

Studies demonstrating that patients suffering from chronic conditions frequently also suffer from mental illness suggest practices could position themselves better to treat those conditions by adding social workers, psychologists and therapists to their teams, according to Forbes

To the extent that improved primary care for these patients reduces their number of emergency room visits, there's potential for knock-on benefits for healthcare cost centers throughout the system. "Insurers are beginning to recognize the benefit of mental healthcare and payer models are slowly increasing," said Cindy Cooke, president of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners.

To learn more:
- read the Forbes story
- see the article in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine