Mental Health Care is now Primary Care – Support Primary Care Providers

By Julie Frey, Head of Product – Provider Segment, Clinical Effectiveness, Wolters Kluwer Health
LinkedIn: Julie Frey
LinkedIn: Wolters Kluwer

The demand for mental health services is outstripping the ability of providers to keep up. A recent report by the American Psychological Association found that 38% of psychologists have seen an increase in the number of people on their waiting list, increasing their workloads by 26%. While healthcare leaders are prioritizing hiring more specialists and encouraging more referrals to close the demand-supply gap in mental health care, that won’t alleviate the strain now.

As a result, primary care providers (PCPs) are now needed to supply mental health care as well. Estimates have between 40 to 90% of patients having their mental health needs treated by their PCP including first-line prescriptions for antidepressants.

This is putting an additional burden on PCPs who are already challenged in trying to provide care to their non-mental health patients. Today, the average primary care visit lasts 15 minutes, and adding mental health treatment can strain an already strained provider, especially if the provider has no specialized training in treating mental health.

So how can the healthcare system support its providers and the patients to ensure that this stretched system still provides care?

Without specialized training, providing effective mental health care can be challenging for providers, but is essential for patient’s overall well-being and PCPs now play a crucial role in guiding patients. PCPs need tools, commonly clinical decision support (CDS) solutions, that let them search for the latest research and medical evidence to help diagnose, and identify treatment including identifying the best medication regime.

The latter is of particular urgency. While anti-depressants can be successful in helping with depression, one of the most common diagnoses, it may take several tries to find the right drug and the right dose. This requires guidance on choosing a drug, how to monitor its impact, and how best to titrate and move the patient from one drug to another without or minimal adverse results.

However, mental health care doesn’t just require the provider, it also requires optimal participation from the patient. A holistic view of the patient looking at their environment, behavior, genetics, and social circumstances is critical to treatment as is education and engagement. By integrating the treatment and the education and engagement there is a single “source” of truth in treatment that can provide patients with actionable guidance that results in better treatment, adherence, and overall well-being.

Health systems that adopt tools that offer CDS solutions that do this and that align with the provider workflow make this challenge of mental health care more manageable. Providing mental health care as part of primary care is the new normal. Providers and patients need tools that will provide an assistive guide to the right treatment for optimal outcomes.