Thursday, October 10, 2013

Psychiatrists Urged to Play Greater Role in Government Health Policies

Psychiatrists must increase their advocacy efforts to influence federal, state, and local health policy, said three psychiatrists with experience in all three levels of government, speaking today at the APA Institute on Psychiatric Services in Philadelphia. They spoke as last-minute replacements for Pamela Hyde, J.D., administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), whose appearance was cancelled as a result of the federal government shutdown. Their call for psychiatrists to get more involved in formulating health policy was especially timely since today is World Mental Health Day.

“Mental health suffers from a ‘disparity of esteem’ within the federal government,” stated Kenneth Thompson, M.D., who formerly worked at SAMHSA. While the agency recently hired a new medical director, he noted that the agency still has a relatively minor place in the panoply of federal health programs. “We don’t have psychiatric leadership further up the line,” said Thompson. “We need someone with a clinical background to articulate at the top for mental health as a core concern regarding the nation’s health.”

Implementation of the Affordable Care Act will increase access to and demand for mental health services, but it is not yet clear who will deliver those services within the states, said David Pollack, M.D., a professor of public policy in the department of Psychiatry and Public Health at Oregon Health Science University in Portland. “Psychiatrists will need to define their role in patient care and develop ways of training and collaborating with primary care physicians.”

Finally, psychiatrists can be involved in assessing the needs, capacity, and outcomes of mental health care systems, maintained Matthew Hurford, M.D., chief medical officer of Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services. “We must gather the data that demonstrate what works and what doesn’t, and the effects we have on people’s lives,” said Hurford.

(image: Andy Dean Photography/


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