Primary Health Physicians Increasingly Treat Mental Health Conditions, Finds Study

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Patients are increasingly likely to consult primary care physicians for mental health problems whom they often know best, finds a new study. The comparison of national data by investigators at Brigham’s and women’s Health Hospital found that the proportion of primary care visits from 2006 and 2007 to 2016 and 2018, to address mental health problems increased by almost 50 percent.

The team also found that Hispanic patients and Black patients were 40 percent less likely than non-Hispanic and white patients to have mental health problems addressed during their primary care visits.

The findings are published in Health Affairs.

In fact, the scope of primary care has expanded and primary care physicians are more likely to be providing whole-person care, and this includes addressing mental health problems, stated the corresponding author of the study

Primary care physicians welcome the opportunity to help patients with their mental health problems, but often need better systems of support to provide patients the care they need and want beyond primary care visits.

According to 2020 statistics from the National Institutes of Mental Health, in the U.S., nearly one in five adults reported having emotional, mental, or behavioral disorders. Meanwhile, to better understand how the increase in mental health issues is affecting primary care use and capacity, the team of researchers used data from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey to compare changes over time how the percentage of primary care visits that dealt with a mental health concern.

The examination of a sample of 109, 898 visits revealed that the proportion of visits that dealt with mental health conditions increased from 10.7 percent in 2006-07 to 15.9 percent in 2016 – 2018.

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