High Barriers for Access to Mental Health Care

Primary care physicians struggle to get outpatient mental health services

FRIDAY, April 17 (HealthDay News) -- Approximately two-thirds of primary care physicians have difficulty securing mental health care services for their patients, according to a report published online April 14 in Health Affairs.

Peter J. Cunningham, Ph.D., of the Center for Studying Health System Change in Washington, D.C., analyzed data from a nationally representative survey of 6,600 U.S. physicians who were asked about their experience requesting outpatient treatment for their patients from psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health professionals.

In all, two-thirds of respondents said they had greater difficulty securing mental health care services for their patients than other services, and this problem was reported at over twice the rate of other services that patients are commonly referred for, such as non-emergency hospital admissions, imaging services and specialists, the researcher found. The most common reason for this was lack of adequate insurance coverage, cited by 59 percent of respondents, and health plan barriers, cited by 51 percent, Cunningham reports.

"The probability of having mental health access problems for patients varied by physician practice, health system, and policy factors," the author writes. "The results suggest that implementing mental health parity nationally will reduce some but not all of the barriers to mental health care."

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