Behavioral Health Referrals in Pediatric Primary Care

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Integrated care is rapidly becoming the new paradigm of healthcare and with the transition into integrated practice, many providers from various disciplines must determine how best to work as a team to improve patient outcomes. One particular setting where the logistics of integrated practice must be scrutinized is pediatric primary care, specifically in rural areas, as many psychological problems are presented in pediatric primary care, and rural children are at greater risk for engaging in unhealthy behaviors, such as sedentary lifestyle, poorer nutrition, and greater substance use. All of these concerns can be ameliorated with successful referral to behavioral health consultants (BHC) who can assist in treating these various psychosocial issues. In order for the BHC to assist with patients with psychosocial concerns, other medical providers must be able to recognize and refer these patients to the BHC. The purpose of this study was to determine the prevalence of psychosocial concerns in pediatric primary care and how often the attending medical provider noticed these concerns and referred the patient for behavioral health services. The study also examined what types of psychosocial concerns were raised, and if the referral was not addressed during the same visit, the latency between the initial referral and the behavioral health service. Retrospective electronic health record data (N=300) was collected from the well visits of all 4 and 5 year old patients in 2014 from a rural Appalachian pediatric primary care clinic. Results indicated that when a psychosocial issue was raised, the majority of medical providers appropriately referred the patient to the BHC. Psychosocial concerns were raised in 21.3% (n=64) of visits. When psychosocial concerns were raised, 62.5% (n=40) were referred for behavioral health services with 87.5% (n=35) to the in house BHC. When patients were referred to the in-house BHC, 83.3% (n =30) received services immediately, while patients who were not seen immediately, 16.7% (n=5), waited for an average 21 days to be seen by the BHC. The most common psychosocial concerns raised were related to toilet training, temper tantrums, sleep hygiene, and hyperactivity. These findings highlight the high prevalence of psychosocial issues presented in rural pediatric primary care and the continued education of providers about recognizing these concerns so the appropriate referral can be made. These findings also highlight the need for more integrated practice as primary care is the often the primary source of healthcare in rural areas and by addressing all concerns about patient well-being in this setting via integrated care, patient physical and mental health outcomes can be greatly improved.


Johnson City, TN

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