Friday, December 8, 2017

APA Paper Describes How Psychiatrists Can Improve Health of SMI Patients

Psychiatrists should routinely screen patients with serious mental illness (SMI) for common medical conditions, counsel them on lifestyle modifications to reduce cardiovascular risk factors, and coordinate with their primary care physicians to narrow the longevity gap between this group and the general population. These were some of the conclusions in a white paper that APA issued yesterday at a Capitol Hill briefing.

More than a decade has passed since researchers found that people with SMI treated in the public mental health system are dying on average 25 years earlier than the general population. “The majority of these deaths are due to untreated medical issues,” said Saul Levin M.D., M.P.A., APA CEO and medical director. “However, little progress has been made in rectifying this disparity.”

While patients with SMI often suffer from economic disadvantage and chronic stress caused by their illness, modifiable risk factors play a role as well that psychiatrists can readily address. Patients with SMI are more likely than the general population to use tobacco or other substances, have a poor diet, lead a sedentary lifestyle, and not comply with treatment regimens. These factors, coupled with the propensity for psychotropic medications to cause obesity and metabolic disorders, all contribute to the early mortality of patients with SMI. “But treatment is possible, and treatment does work,” Levin said.

Medical professionals’ bias against and stereotyping of SMI patients, particularly in the emergency department (ED), can also imperil the lives of these patients, said Glenda Wrenn, M.D. (above), director of the Kennedy-Satcher Center for Mental Health Equity at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta. In fact, ED physicians list dealing with psychiatric patients as their “chief complaint” about doing their job, she said. She has seen cases in which patients with SMI died of delirium tremens because ED physicians failed to catch acute alcohol withdrawal.

Medical training for psychiatrists is often limited to medical school and a few months of internship, pointed out Benjamin G. Druss, M.D., the Rosalynn Carter Chair in Mental Health at Emory University. To keep their skills up to date, training in outpatient medical care should be provided to practicing psychiatrists in continuing medical education programs and cross-training opportunities with other medical service providers.

Ultimately, the white paper calls for more research on which models of care would best lead to the improvement of SMI patients’ physical health as well as determine the optimal role of psychiatrists in these models.

(Image: David Hathcox)


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