How Can We Improve Timely Access to Mental Health Care Services?

Shortage of mental health care providers

In Tuesday’s expert perspective, Dr. David Baron provided insights into innovative treatment models that have been implemented throughout the country. These models range from rural areas in West Virginia to large urban cities such as Philadelphia and seek to provide broader access to mental health services. At first blush it might appear that these two geographic locations have little in common in regards to access to mental health care. But consider these facts from the Bureau of Labor: in 2010 it was estimated that the country had only 156,000 mental health counselors. Based on these statistics, it should come as no surprise that the shortage of mental health providers is higher than other disciplines.

According Sarah Kliff, (WonkBlog, December 17, 2012) “access to mental health professionals is worse than any other type of doctor: 89.3 million Americans live in federally-designated mental health professional shortage areas, compared to 55.3 million Americans living in similarly-designated primary-care shortage areas and 44.6 million in dental health shortage areas.” You can read more at WonkBlog.

New mental health care insurance reimbursement models

There are a myriad of causes for the shortage of mental health care professionals. Low wages and low reimbursement from insurance companies can lower the pool of students choosing to embark on a career in the mental health sciences. Advocating for expansion of new and innovative delivery treatment models such as a Medical Home strategy that integrates the total health care experience: mental and physical under the roof of a single health care center is one solution. Reimbursement for online or tele-psychiatry is another.

Share Your Story

We would like to hear your story. Have there been times in your life when lack of providers was a barrier to your receiving adequate mental health services? Is the average American even aware of the disparity between the number of practicing primary care and mental health care physicians? Take our poll below and share this link with peers, family and friends and ask them to participate. Hard facts not only dispel myths but provide the impetus to raise awareness and effect policy changes ensuring no one need wait weeks or months to receive appropriate mental health care due to lack of provider capacity.

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