Mental Health Treatment in the Primary Care Setting: Patterns and Pathways

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The redesign of primary care through the patient-centered medical home offers an opportunity to assess the role of primary care in treating mental health relative to the rest of the health care system. Better understanding the patterns of care between primary care and mental health providers helps guide necessary policy changes. This article reports the findings from 109,593 respondents to the 2002–2009 Medical Expenditure Panel Surveys (MEPS). We examined the extent to which persons with poor mental health visited primary care providers, and distinguished among 4 patterns of care: (a) mental health only, (b) primary care only, (c) dual care (both mental health and primary care) and (d) other provider combinations. Our findings indicate that poor mental health and specific mental health conditions remain prevalent in primary care. An increased focus on patient-centered care requires greater integration of primary and mental health care to reduce fragmentation of care and disparities in health outcomes.

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