Mental and behavioral health conditions, including substance misuse, are reaching epidemic proportions throughout the U.S. How can we as an industry help address the growing need and demand for quality mental health services?
One of the more promising solutions is the expanded use of certified physician assistants (PA-Cs) to share the workload of busy psychiatrists by filling gaps in care in mental health clinics, hospitals, busy EDs and other settings. PA-Cs are prepared through classroom and clinical education at the graduate level and certification maintained by earning substantial CME and passing rigorous assessments every 10 years.
Here are five ways PA-Cs can help plans and provider groups meet the growing demand for effective and quality focused behavioral healthcare services:
1. Expand access to care in underserved markets.
The realities of psychiatric care shortages in the U.S. are well documented. The good news is that four of the top mental Health Professional Shortage Areas, are also four of the top five states with the largest numbers of certified PAs: California, Texas, Florida and New York. In these states, a strong PA workforce is already in place, working in collaboration with psychiatrists and other mental health providers.
2. Collaborate with, and share the workload for, busy behavioral health providers.
Depending on their chosen specialty and clinical setting, PA-Cs diagnose and manage a range of mental disorders including ADHD, depression, anxiety, addiction, bipolar disorder, autism and schizophrenia. Utilizing PAs to provide initial intake and manage urgent cases, as well as communicating with family members and coordinating discharge with community physicians, helps free psychiatrists to focus on the most difficult cases.
3.Offer the knowledge and educational background employers, colleagues, and patients want and need.
PA-Cs are educated in graduate level programs that include about 1,000 didactic hours of general medical science, including behavioral health, followed by approximately 2,000 hours in clinical rotations. In addition, PAs maintain certification through an ongoing program that includes earning 100 hours of CME every two years, as well as rigorous assessments every 10 years. PAs in psychiatry typically chose that specialty and are committed to ongoing education in the field. Many PAs further their education by securing a Certificate of Added Qualification in Psychiatry from the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants.