Primary care docs may need to play larger role in mental health


Limited access to psychiatrists means fewer Americans receive treatment for mental health issues. That’s why it’s troubling that the median number of practicing psychiatrists has declined by 10 percent per 100,000 residents in hospital referral regions, according to a recent study published in Health Affairs.

Researchers say that the number of psychiatrists declined from 37,968 to 37,889 over a 10 year period from 2003 to 2013. But there may be a silver lining in their other finding: During the same time period, the number of primary care doctors has increased. Thus, researchers are calling for additional studies to determine new models of care that integrate mental health and primary care or a team-based approach--one that includes psychiatrists and non-physicians--to care for patients with severe mental illnesses.

Patients living with mental illness need access to close, coordinated care provided by their primary care doctors and other behavioral health providers. Ongoing monitoring by their primary care and mental health providers can mean that patients receive the treatment they need for behavioral and physical ailments.

Still, it’s difficult for primary care doctors to bring up mental health issues with patients, as previously reported by FiercePracticeManagement. Engaging patients in face-to-face conversations is helpful, as is asking open-ended questions such as, “What’s going on in your life?”

The trouble is, not many doctors have these conversations with their patients. For example, fewer than one half of pediatricians screen their patients’ mothers for signs of depression.

- read the study abstract