OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A Nebraska health network and the state university medical school have launched a system to increase access to behavioral health treatment.
Nebraska Medicine and its research and education partner, the University of Nebraska Medical Center, have begun returning most patients — once they’re stable — to their primary care providers for ongoing care. That opens up more appointment slots for new patients.
Limited access to psychiatric providers is a regional and national problem, Nebraska Medicine’s behavioral health director, David Cates, told the Omaha World-Herald .
Behavioral health providers are clustered in urban areas, leaving rural areas underserved, said Dr. Howard Liu, chairman of medical school’s psychiatry department. And more than half of providers in Nebraska are over age 50 and retiring faster in some cases than they can be replaced.
Also, Liu said, the stigma around seeking behavioral health care has lessened somewhat.
Cates said psychiatric treatment providers typically follow patients indefinitely, leaving few openings available for new patients. In the first quarter of fiscal year 2019, 92% of outpatient psychiatry visits at Nebraska Medicine were return ones, he said.
“We tend to keep patients forever,” Cates said.
The new procedure has new patients come via referrals from their primary care provider, with some exceptions.
Patients follow one of two tracks after evaluations. Those on a consultation track will have several more visits and, once stable, be referred back to their primary care provider.
Those with more persistent or severe conditions will stay under the care of psychiatrists or psychiatric advanced practice providers, all of whom can prescribe medications.
The difference between the two tracks depends on the complexity of the patient’s condition, including stability and history, rather than the diagnosis itself.
The team that developed the new plan thinks a significant number of patients can be transferred back to primary care providers, Cates said.