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Understanding the expanding role of primary care physicians (PCPs) to primary psychiatric care physicians (PPCPs): enhancing the assessment and treatment of psychiatric conditions

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Aim: In the current healthcare system primary care physicians (PCPs) have, in effect, become the primary psychiatric care physicians (PPCPs) for many of their patients. Being the PPCP in an already busy and stressful medical industry presents additional time management and treatment challenges to successfully manage patients' medical and psychiatric needs. The aim of the study was to ascertain PCPs' psychiatric assessment and treatment practices and to determine the extent to which PCPs have a need for using a structured psychiatric assessment tool.

Method: We sent 300 PCPs a survey to examine their psychiatric assessment and treatment practices. A one-page questionnaire was used to inquire about PCPs' psychiatric care practice habits including types of conditions treated, psychiatric medications prescribed, assessment methods used, interest in using a structured assessment tool and referral sources used. Sixty-eight usable surveys (23%) were returned.

Results: PCPs identify approximately one-third of their patients as mental health patients. They are treating a wide range of psychiatric conditions and prescribing a variety of psychiatric medications. The vast majority are using traditional clinical interviewing as their primary method of psychiatric assessment. However, the majority were willing to use a structured psychiatric assessment tool.

Conclusion: PCPs are serving a useful role in providing psychiatric treatment to many of their patients. Using a more structured psychiatric assessment method in practice could ultimately strengthen the assessment and treatment of psychiatric conditions in primary care settings.


Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Quality Behavioral Health, USA 2: Associate Professor, Rhode Island College and Clinical Psychologist, Rhode Island Center for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Inc., USA 3: Family Physician, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard University Faculty, USA

Publication date: March 1, 2010

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