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Mental health providers can be successfully located with pediatricians

Mental health providers can be successfully located with or in pediatric practices, according to researchers at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center and the N.C. Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Writing in the journal Clinical Pediatrics, the researchers said, "With the increased need for identification, diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders in primary health care settings, location of mental health providers in primary care practices is a concept whose time has come." The article is being published online today. Jane Williams, Ph.D., the lead author, and colleagues describe three practice models, all of which were financially sustainable.

"Across all three models, enhanced communication between medical and mental health providers was consistently perceived as improving quality of care for patients, increasing comfort in diagnosis and treatment of behavioral health disorders by physicians and providing educational opportunities between disciplines," Williams said. "Pediatricians perceived themselves to be more efficient in their practices."

In one model, a practitioner who was employed by a community Mental Health Center was stationed in a large pediatric practice, Aegis Winston East. Williams said the model "provided more convenience for patients, less stigma and better communications with primary care physicians."

In the second model, a master's degree-level, licensed psychological associate was directly employed by a private pediatric practice in Washington, N.C., that assumed all responsibility for expenses and reimbursement. The practice chose that type of practitioner because of a contract with the local school system to provide psychological testing services.

Other services included diagnostic interviews, individual and family therapy and informal consultation with the physicians in the practice, Washington Pediatrics.

In the third model, a self-employed psychologist practiced in the same suite of offices with a rural pediatric practice in Sylva. High demand for mental health services resulted in the addition of a second psychologist, a clinical social worker and a psychological associate.

Patients said that having the two offices together "contributed to a high level of satisfaction and trust," Williams said. "Pediatricians indicated increased confidence in prescribing psychotropic medications due to exposure to the mental health group as well as increased skills in caring for children who had been hospitalized for mental health disorders."

While some practices have had mental health professionals working directly with them for years, reimbursements came only from private insurers. Until recently, children with mental health diagnoses who 1qwere on Medicaid could be treated only in public clinics.

A number of changes in N.C. Medicaid policy allowed mental health providers to serve a mix of Medicaid and privately insured children. Up to 26 visits annually per child are now permitted, which can be billed to Medicaid either by a primary care provider or a mental health professional.

Robert Conn | EurekAlert!
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