I attended a session Friday morning titled “Improving Outcomes for the Underserved: The Role of Integrated Primary Care.” The panel provided an overview of models of service delivery and highlighted key components to make integrative systems work effectively. I assume that this is an important topic for many psychologist and mental health professionals as the room was packed with standing room only (or floor seats for those who chose).
Why is this important to psychologists?
Health care reform and integrative primary care have been hot topics for several years. The Obama administration and Congress have played a major role in integrating mental health into primary care. The APA has also been involved in these discussions and highlighting the role of psychologists who work in primary care settings. You can visit the APA website for more information on health care reform and APA’s priorities (http://www.apa.org/health-reform/index.html).
Psychologists are experts in behavioral change. Therefore, it is imperative that they have a seat at the table when policymakers are discussing ways to improve mental and physical health. Psychologists have been working in integrated primary care settings for decades, providing behavioral health services. According to the APA, psychologists play a vital role in health promotion and disease prevention.
Roles of psychologists in integrative care include:
- Psychologists possess the essential therapeutic skills for delivering treatment to substance abuse clients, including empathy, good listening skills and training in evidence-based methods known to curb addictive behaviors.
- By assessing a client’s needs, abilities or behavior using a variety of methods, including psychometric tests, interviews and direct observation of behavior, psychologists help tobacco users quit smoking.
- Psychologists have the ability to address factors associated with risky sexual behaviors and devise strategies for patients to meet their individual needs.
- Psychologists possess the ability to devise and monitor appropriate programs of treatment, including therapy, counseling or advice, in collaboration with colleagues to assist adults and children in coping with the psychological factors associated with injury and violence.
- Psychologists possess the skills necessary to assist patients in making behavioral changes to adopt physical activity to increase their mental well-being.
- Psychologists can address both parent and infant anxiety before and during the immunization process and can develop materials and information on the behavioral aspect of immunization.
How is this important to meeting the needs of the underserved?
According to Dr. Dennis Freeman, under-served populations are the highest users of primary care services. “To improve cost and outcomes, we need to understand the impact of psychosocial factors,” he said. Given the shift in health care reform to from traditional care to community mental health centers, psychologists need to know how to be involved in these changes.
Whereas underserved populations over-use primary care and emergency room services, we know from the literature that they often under-utilize mental health services. Integrating mental and physical health care bridges a gap for psychologists to work with underserved groups. Dr. Freeman also noted “patients with mental disorders often have co-morbid medical conditions,” which may another reason why underserved seek medical care before seeking behavioral health services.