Pediatric primary care provider comfort with mental health practices: A needs assessment of regions with shortages of treatment access

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Objectives: Nearly 50%ofchildrenwitha mentalhealthconcern donot receive treatment.Child PsychiatryAccessProgramslike Behavioral Health Integration in Pediatric Primary Care (BHIPP) address regional shortages of mental health treatment access by providing training and consultation to primary care providers (PCPs) in managing mental health concerns. This study assessed PCPs’ comfort with mental health practices to inform expansion of BHIPP services.

Methods: Pediatric PCPs in 114 practices in three rural regions of Maryland were recruited to participate in a survey about their comfort with mental health practices and access to mental health providers for referral. Descriptives, Friedman’s test, and post hoc pairwise comparisons were used to examine survey responses.

Results: Participants were 107 PCPs. Most respondents were physicians (53.3%) or nurse practitioners/physician’s assistants (39.3%). Friedman’stest,χ2(7)= 210.15, p<.001, revealed significant within and between-group differences inPCP comfort with mental health practices. Post hoc pairwise comparisons indicated greater comfort providing mental health screening and referrals compared to prescribing psychiatric medications, providing psychoeducation or in-office mental health interventions. A Wilcoxon-signed rank test showed significantly more respondents agreed they could find a therapist than a psychiatrist in a timely manner, Z= −5.93, p<.001.

Conclusions: Pediatric PCPs were more comfortable with providing mental health assessment and referrals than treatment. However, PCPs reported difficulty finding therapists and psychiatrists for their patients. Findings underscore the need for longitudinal training to increase PCP comfort with mental health treatment. Additionally, strategies such as telepsychiatry are needed to address the disproportionate need for child psychiatrists.