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The (Head) Doctor Is In: Physicals Would Include Mental Health

The US faces a shrink shortage: An estimated 62 million Americans will become eligible for mental health benefits under the Affordable Care Act, but there aren’t enough psychiatrists to treat them.

What to do?

Anna Ratzliff, a professor at the University of Washington, is among a group of psychiatrists teaming up with physicians to provide mental health at the same time as a patient’s annual physical.

They reason patients will be more likely to get treated this way, as 60 percent of patients sent to a psychiatrist don’t follow through.

“Traditionally when you have to refer out it can take weeks to months between that time that depression is identified, and when somebody actually gets to see a mental health provider,” Ratzliff told The Record’s Steve Scher. “It’s a really complicated system and when somebody’s already depressed, trying to navigate that – make a call, make an appointment – that can be really challenging.”

Under the new system, doctors reason that patients could start treatment the day they’re diagnosed.

Instead of meeting with patients one-on-one, Dr. Ratzliff, who also practices, acts as a consultant to a team of care managers – usually licensed social workers or therapists – to develop a treatment plan that might include psychotherapy and drug therapy.