Physicians, patients need help accessing mental health care
by Stephen J. Grindel, DO —
In caring for patients in a holistic manner, it is important to assess the mental well-being of patients in addition to their physical health. Primary care physicians are currently treating one-third of patients with psychiatric disorders and two-thirds of patients with depression. The number of individuals requiring mental health care during the COVID-19 pandemic has only further stressed the system, revealing gaps in current treatment.
Primary care physicians are well trained to screen, evaluate and treat mental health problems, but frequently the patients require further evaluation. In attempting to refer patients for psychiatric evaluation, physicians find the availability of mental health providers in our area is limited and more difficult in rural areas. Similar problems exist with counseling services. We may have a few available names of counselors but are unsure of qualifications and areas of expertise. Receiving information regarding treatments, especially from counselors, almost never happens, making coordination of care difficult.
Currently on a national level, the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association and a number of other associations are collaborating on a Behavior Medicine Initiative to give physicians tools and assistance in dealing with the problems of access to mental health care. One model has a health manager in the clinic with a psychiatrist available to review treatment plans. Several studies have noted that embedding a behavioral medicine individual within the practice has improved quality of care and outcomes.
On the state level, the KU School of Medicine-Wichita Department of Pediatrics and Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences are directing a telehealth program called KSKidsMAP. This program, funded by a grant from HRSA through KDHE, is focused on pediatric mental health. It allows primary care physicians and other clinicians in Kansas to connect with a social work care coordinator for referral information and mental health resources. Physicians can also receive case consultation services from a child and adolescent psychiatrist and psychologist.
COVID-19 has dramatically increased the number of individuals requiring evaluation and treatment for mental health disorders. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey, more than half of Americans feel their mental health has deteriorated during the pandemic. Physicians and patients will benefit from improved access to mental health care.
MSSC is attempting to assemble a list of available psychiatrists and counselors to use for referrals. Our goal is efficient treatment of patients with mental health issues, with coordination of care and easy access to consultants. We want to prevent delayed evaluation requiring emergency room visits and to improve quality of care.