Friday, January 7, 2022

Social Workers in Primary Care Practices Found to Increase Access to MH Care

Deploying behavioral health social workers in primary care settings can increase the likelihood that patients with depression or anxiety will receive treatment within 30 days of their diagnosis, a study published today in Psychiatric Services in Advance has found.

Elizabeth R. Pfoh, Ph.D., M.P.H., of the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Value-Based Care Research and colleagues examined data from 68,659 adults who had at least one primary care visit between 2016 and 2019 and a new diagnosis of depression, anxiety, or both. Behavioral health social workers were deployed in 40 practices between 2017 and 2019. Patients were grouped according to whether they were diagnosed before or after the social workers were deployed. Patients were followed for 35 days after their diagnosis.

In May 2018, changes were made to the electronic health record (EHR) system enabling physicians to more easily refer patients to the behavioral health social workers, who would then call patients within seven days of receiving the referral. The social workers screened patients using tools such as the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 and asked patients about current substance use and anxiety as well as any history of psychiatric disorders. The social workers also offered community resources or referred patients to mental health professionals such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or licensed independent social worker.

Compared with those diagnosed with depression or anxiety before the social workers began working with the primary care practices, patients diagnosed with depression or anxiety had the following:

  • 4.35 times the odds and 4.27 times the odds, respectively, of having a behavioral health visit within 30 days of diagnosis.
  • 5 times the odds of having a visit with a non-psychiatrist therapist.
  • 1.82 times and 1.58 times the odds, respectively, of having a visit with a psychiatrist.

“Other health systems that have advanced EHR systems should consider introducing social workers trained in behavioral health to triage patients receiving new diagnoses of depression, anxiety, or both and systematically link them to appropriate care,” Pfoh and colleagues concluded.

(Image: iStock/Moyo Studio)

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