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Referrals to programs for access to pediatric psychiatry increased during the pandemic

November 30, 2021

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Research shows that general practitioner referrals to programs for access to pediatric mental health care increased and included more complex mental health issues during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Friend F. Bettencourt

Dustin E. Sarver

Lead author Amie F. Bettencourt, PhD, the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and co-author Dustin E. Sarver, PhD, of the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, and colleagues reported these findings in Psychiatric Services.

“We knew then that the COVID-19 pandemic is putting a strain on children’s mental health and the mental health system,” Sarver told Healio Psychiatry. “A novel model to bring mental health care directly into the medical home and improve access to behavioral health services is the Pediatric Mental Health Care Access (PMHCA) programs for Pediatric Mental Health Care. Given that these programs are relatively new, we wanted to see if primary care providers were using PMHCAs to address children’s mental health needs. “

The researchers compared the performance trends of the PHMCA programs in Maryland and Mississippi, which had 2,840 contacts with primary care providers between January 2019 and March 2021. In particular, they analyzed descriptive trends regarding the use of the PHMCA program, the type of treatment, the clinical severity, the diagnostic complexity and the reasons for contacting primary care providers.

The results showed that call volume increased significantly across both programs during the COVID-19 pandemic. The researchers noted an increase in calls for patients with multiple diagnoses and those with symptoms of mood and anxiety.

“The trends we found in two different PMHCA programs in this study are in line with, and have additional, other recent research highlighting the increased mental health needs of children and adolescents during the COVID-19 pandemic Support for the recent national emergency declaration in child mental health is being made by the AAP, AACAP and the Children’s Hospital Association, “Bettencourt said. “In addition, our results underscore the important role PMHCA programs can play in meeting these growing mental health needs.”

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