Pediatric Psychiatry Services Infiltrate Primary Care

After more than 2 decades as a primary care pediatrician, Dr. Teresa M. Hargrave was so frustrated by the lack of psychiatric services for her patients that she retrained as a child and adolescent psychiatrist. Now, she’s part of a New York state program that spreads her psychiatric skills to more patients than she imagined could be possible.

“If this program had been in place when I was a pediatrician, I would never have had to switch,” said Dr. Hargrave of the State University of New York (SUNY) in Syracuse.



Today, New York primary care physicians can call            855-227-7272       toll free on weekdays for an immediate consultation with a master’s level therapist in the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry for Primary Care program (CAP PC). If a patient seems to need psychotropic medication, the therapist connects the pediatrician with a psychiatrist on the program’s team, such as Dr. Hargrave, who helps the primary care physician manage treatment through phone consultations and, if needed, in-person assessments.

Dozens of similar efforts – in a variety of formats – have sprung up across the country. They’re all trying to address a fundamental mismatch: There are only 7,400 practicing child and adolescent psychiatrists in the United States but more than 15 million young people in those age groups who need psychiatric care, according todata analyses from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

The National Network of Child Psychiatry Access Programs acts as a hub for these programs in 24 states, with programs in 4 more states set to take their first calls soon.

These model programs are making great inroads in getting care to the estimated 15%-25% of children seen in primary care offices who have behavioral health disorders, but reimbursement problems create a roadblock that must be overcome in the years ahead for the programs to be fully effective, several experts said in interviews at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

New York Program

New York’s CAP PC program modeled itself after one of the first state-wide programs, the Massachusetts Child Psychiatry Access Project, with some key changes. The CAP PC program covers 95% of the New York state population but uses the same toll-free number everywhere, compared with multiple different phone numbers being used in different regions in Massachusetts. New York’s program also added an educational component for primary care physicians – a free 15-hour “Mini-Fellowship” weekend program followed by a dozen 1-hour biweekly case-based conference calls.

Courtesy Dr. Teresa M. Hargrave
Dr. David Kaye

Primary care physicians seem to love the help, Dr. David Kaye said at a poster presentation at the meeting. In its 2 years of operation, the CAP PC program has registered 829 primary care physicians (80% pediatricians, 20% family physicians), 292 of whom took the training sessions. The program handled 1,016 intake and follow-up calls, provided 993 consultations with a psychiatrist, conducted 94 face-to-face evaluations, and referred 305 patients to other services, reported Dr. Kaye, professor of psychiatry and director of child and adolescent psychiatry training at SUNY in Buffalo, N.Y.

Among 325 primary care physicians surveyed 2 weeks after contact with the CAP PC program, 94% said the consultations were very or extremely helpful, and 99% said they would recommend the program to other primary care physicians.

The program has greatly increased the number of children accessing psychiatric services compared with a previous pilot program in central New York that provided immediate telephone referrals and psychiatric consultation within 24 hours of a request, Dr. Hargrave said in a separate poster presentation at the meeting.

The CAP PC program improved upon the pilot by offering psychiatric consultation within 2 hours of a request, occasional in-person consultations, the education program, and a centralized computer database that allows the therapists and psychiatrists on different shifts to access patient records quickly, she said.

Compared with data from 2 years of the pilot program, data from the CAP PC program in the central New York area showed an increase in the number of children served from 6 to 14 per month (a 133% gain), an increase in the number of clinicians involved from 77 to 116 per month (a 51% gain), and an increase in the proportion of patients managed within the primary care office because of a decrease in the rate of referrals to more expensive specialists from 39% to 22%, Dr. Hargrave reported.

“The amount of morbidity that primary care physicians are coping with is amazing,” especially in rural areas, she said.

Texas Model

A different model in Texas significantly decreased psychiatric symptoms and improved quality of life in children and adolescents participating in the program, Dr. Steven R. Pliszka reported in another poster presentation.

Courtesy Dr. Teresa M. Hargrave
Dr. Steven R. Pliszka

The Services Uniting Pediatrics and Psychiatry Outreaching to Texas (SUPPORT) program, funded by the Department of State Health Services, placed master’s level licensed therapists into primary care pediatric practices in six regions across the state. These therapists tried to see patients the same day that pediatricians referred them, and typically saw each patient for one to six sessions of practical, problem-focused therapies. A consulting child and adolescent psychiatrist helped determine which patients might need psychotropic medication and advised pediatricians on drug choice, dosing, and monitoring.

The SUPPORT program enrolled 145 pediatricians and 14,582 children covered by Medicaid. The outcomes evaluation involved a subset of 4,047 patients who were assessed at baseline, 3 month, and 6 months using the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) and thePediatric Quality of Life Inventory (PedsQL).

In both younger (1.5-5 years of age) and older children (5-18 years), scores significantly decreased on the internalizing, externalizing, and total scales of the CBCL as well as on the individual symptom scales. Scores on the PedsQL improved significantly in each of four age groups (2-4 years, 5-7 years, 8-12 years, and 13-18 years), said Dr. Pliszka, professor and chair of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Mean total scores on the CBCL, for example, decreased from approximately 63 to about 53 at 6 months. Mean PedsQL scores at baseline ranged approximately from 68 to 71 at baseline (depending on the age group) and increased to a range of about 77-81.

Data on diagnoses and prescriptions tracked by the program suggest that the pediatricians prescribed appropriate medications to the 2,207 patients who received at least one psychotropic medication (15% of all patients), Dr. Pliszka said.

“So, kids with ADHD got treated with a stimulant, kids with depression got an antidepressant, [and] kids with bipolar disorder got combinations of different medications. We also did not have any really bad outcomes. There were no suicides, no serious adverse drug effects. It shows that the model is a way to treat even fairly serious mental illnesses in the primary care setting,” he said.

Dr. Pliszka and his associates next plan to compare outcomes for patients managed through SUPPORT and usual care (referral by primary care physicians to mental health clinics in the community).

Reimbursement Issues

Government and academic funds support these programs for now, but better funding mechanisms for collaborative care are needed for long-term sustainability, each of the physicians interviewed said.

New York’s CAP PC is a collaboration among five academic centers that is funded by a grant from the State Office of Mental Health. The SUPPORT program received Medicaid support in Texas.

While there probably are enough master’s level therapists to expand SUPPORT beyond the Medicaid population, “what’s lacking is that it’s difficult for both the pediatrician and the master’s level person to get reimbursed for that type of activity because they use completely different codes,” Dr. Pliszka said. “Projects of this type would make the argument for modifying the reimbursement system to allow more integrated care.”

Dr. Teresa M. Hargrave

Part of CAP PC’s education program helps New York primary care physicians get comfortable with coding for their mental health work, but there are gaps in that approach, Dr. Kaye said. “In some of our regions, docs can be paid reasonably for what they’re doing, but in lots of places, they can’t put in a code for ADHD or depression and get reimbursed” because insurers say they’re not credentialed mental health providers.

“There’s got to be a way on the payment side that Medicaid and/or the insurers figure out how to pay primary care docs to do this work, and to pay them fairly,” he said. “I think this is going to be a huge part of the future of primary care. The numbers are that mental health problems are the most common chronic condition that kids get.”

Even for the psychiatrists involved, the current model is not sustainable, he added. The New York grant pays each of the five academic centers for a 10-hour day of consultation each week, which is far less than the actual hours contributed.

“We’re all university based. We believe in the project, so we’ve been able to sustain that. Can we do that for 20 years? I don’t know,” Dr. Kaye said.

“The major drawback is that it takes time, and insurance does not reimburse for that time. To really get such a system as this off the ground or well integrated” will require reimbursement for the time spent by all the health care providers involved, Dr. Hargrave said.

She said she hopes that in the future, all children and primary care clinicians will have access to mental health care, advice and support, “and that the clinicians – whether primary care or psychiatric – could be paid adequately for the work that we do.”

Dr. Pliszka reported financial associations with Shire Pharmaceuticals and Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals. Dr. Kaye and Dr. Hargrave received research support from the New York State Office of Mental Health. Some of their coinvestigators reported financial associations with the Resource for Advancing Children’s Health Institute, American Psychiatric Publishing, Marriott Foundation, Shire Pharmaceuticals, and Ortho-McNeil-Janssen.

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