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Trending Topics: Psychiatry for Primary Care

Mental health is on the forefront of primary care providers’ minds for many reasons. Mental illness currently impacts almost a quarter of adults in the US. Primary care teams are operating at the front line as the healthcare system struggles to adapt to the population’s needs.

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Why Primary Care?

There are several reasons why primary care physicians, PAs, NPs and nurses serve their patients’ mental health in addition to their physical health.

  • Regular Well Visits: PCPs can add mental illness screenings to annual exams and other well visits without too many additional resources.
  • Long Term Relationships: PCPs get to know their patients over many years. This builds trust with patients and allows physicians to consider other illnesses, medications, socioeconomic status and additional factors that can contribute to mental health.
  • Specialist Shortage: There is a shortage of mental healthcare providers and “roughly two-thirds of primary care physicians are unable to connect their patients to outpatient mental health services.” Even in areas with providers specializing in psychiatry and other behavioral health fields, patients wait longer to see them, while primary care physicians can treat patients more quickly, even if that patient does eventually see a specialist.
  • Health Insurance: Generally, people see a PCP who accepts the individual’s insurance. A psychiatrist or other specialist may not take payment via insurance, which can deter the many patients for whom cost is a consideration.
  • Holistic Care: Mental health is a large component of overall wellbeing. A PCP can take into account known physical and mental illnesses when treating a patient. This has wide-reaching benefits, including coordinating medications, addressing comorbidities and considering mental illnesses presenting as physical ones (and vice versa).

What Can You Do?

These realities make it essential for PCPs to maintain a working knowledge of mental health care. Relevant ongoing education allows primary care settings to effectively treat the mental health of many of their patients. Consider adding these topics to your continuing education:

  • Mental illness screening guidelines
  • Beginning treatment (for common disorders especially)
  • Cultural implications
  • Trauma-informed care
  • Telemedicine for increased access
  • Electronic health records (to share information with specialists)