Population Of US Practicing Psychiatrists Declined, 2003–13, Which May Help Explain Poor Access To Mental Health Careby Tara F. Bishop, Joanna K. Seirup, Harold Alan Pincus, andJoseph S. RosHealth Affairs. 2016 35:1271-1277.
A large proportion of the US population suffers from mental illness. Limited access to psychiatrists may be a contributor to the underuse of mental health services. We studied changes in the supply of psychiatrists from 2003 to 2013, compared to changes in the supply of primary care physicians and neurologists. During this period the number of practicing psychiatrists declined from 37,968 to 37,889, which represented a 10.2 percent reduction in the median number of psychiatrists per 100,000 residents in hospital referral regions. In contrast, the numbers of primary care physicians and neurologists grew during the study period. These findings may help explain why patients report poor access to mental health care. Future research should explore the impact of the declining psychiatrist supply on patients and investigate new models of care that seek to integrate mental health and primary care or use team-based care that combines the services of psychiatrists and nonphysician providers for individuals with severe mental illnesses.
MEDPAGETODAYby Neel A. Duggal07·17·2016
The number of practicing psychiatrists in the U.S. has stalled over the last decade, in contrast to an upward trend among many other specialties, researchers found. An analysis of data from the Health Resources and Services Administration [HRSA] revealed a 0.2% decline in the number of psychiatrists in practice, compared with increases for neurologists [35.7%], primary care physicians [9.5%], and all practicing physicians [14.2%], Tara Bishop, MD, MPH, of Weill Cornell Medical College, and colleagues reported in the July issue of Health Affairs.
Co-author Harold Pincus, MD, of Columbia University and New York-Presbyterian Hospital, told MedPage Today that more medical school students were going into psychiatry in the 60s and 70s, but there’s been a "generational shift and this proportion has declined. Thus, psychiatrists are not being replaced at a sufficient rate." He offered two potential reasons for this shift: "First, psychiatrists are one of the lowest compensated specialties," he said. "Secondly, there are a greater number of other professionals providing behavioral health services, such as mid-level providers and counselors"… In addition to the overall totals, they saw a 10.2% decline in the median number of psychiatrists per 100,000 residents in hospital referral regions — compared with a 15.8% per capita increase for neurologists, and stable per capita proportions for primary care doctors and all practicing physicians…
The researchers suggested that the decline in psychiatrists might explain "why people report poor access to mental healthcare and why a large portion of psychiatrists are able to sustain practices without accepting insurance."
Petros Levounis, MD, chair of psychiatry at Rutgers Medical School, who wasn’t involved in the study, noted that there have been policy efforts to increase reimbursement for mental health services, such as the Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Act of 2008 — but its implementation "has been slow," he said. "Reimbursements are very low," Levounis added. "Thus, many psychiatrists don’t accept insurance, such as those in the greater New York area." From his perspective as a medical school instructor, Levounis said that medical students "are initially interested in mental health and addiction. However, as their education progresses, their interest drops significantly"…
Pincus suggested that giving psychiatrists a supervisory role to guide other behavioral health professionals, while diminishing their own face time with patients, may be the best path to managing population mental health. But Levounis disagrees: he believes such a move will online increase the need for psychiatrists. On the other hand, telemedicine may be able to pick up the slack, although it’s "early to tell the success of their outcomes," Levounis said. The researchers concluded that "policy makers, payers, and the medical community simultaneously must develop strategies to enhance recruitment into psychiatry and rapidly develop and effectively disseminate new care models to use the psychiatric workforce more efficiently in the near term."Co-authors disclosed financial relationships with Medtronic, Johnson & Johnson, and Blue Cross Blue Shield.
Back then, the need was for physicians [psychiatrists] to staff the mental health centers that were an essential ingredient of the Community Mental Health enterprise. It was actually a good plan in my estimation, though by the time I arrived in the mid·1970s, it was in its waning days – collapsing under the weight of under·funding, under·staffing, and stripped of the necessary hospital backup for stabilization. With the coming of the DSM-III, brain science, and the medicalization of psychiatry, there was the kind of heyday new paradigms often bring. But in general, the relative number of US graduating seniors choosing psychiatry is basically flat compared to other medical specialties.
These authors mention the low pay and competition from other disciplines as explanatory factors. But those things have always been true and are unlikely to explain the more recent state of the specialty. Of course the number of psychiatrists is falling, but the obvious explanations weren’t mentioned here – things like psychiatrists are only covered by insurance to prescribe medications, and heavily criticized for prescribing too much medication; psychiatrists are not covered to talk to patients, and criticized for not talking to their patients; the upper echelons of psychiatry contain a number of tainted key opinion leaders who have gone over to the dark side and allied themselves with the commercial interests of the pharmaceutical industry; and critics see all psychiatrists as members of this tainted group and are globally contemptuous. That’s just for starters. And, oh yeah, I didn’t take insurance because with that came directives about practice that were unacceptable [and in my opinion, wrong]. I preferred to make less money.
And so the authors suggest the solution is for psychiatrists to no longer see patients or to see them even less, but rather direct treatment from afar by working through a Clinical Coordinator AKA Collaborative Care or literally afar through a computer screen AKA Telepsychiatry. Who wants to spend a career doing either? What patient wants to be treated that way? And the authors’ Conflicts of Interest are telling. Their suggestions are exactly what industry wants from psychiatrists [prescribe meds more rationally than the Primary Care docs do, but don’t get involved with talking to or even meeting with the patients because that runs up costs]. So it looks to me as if they’re using the declining number data to justify directing the specialty even further into exactly what Medtronic, Johnson & Johnson, and Blue Cross Blue Shield want it to be.