Healthcare News & Insights

More hospitals using onsite psychiatrists to treat mental illness

Even if the reason for their admission to the hospital isn’t directly related, many patients come to the hospital with mental illnesses. When coupled with other diseases, they can have a negative effect on a person’s recovery, leading to poor outcomes and readmissions. 

465446791To solve this problem, some hospitals are taking a more holistic approach to patients’ health.

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, facilities are keeping mental health professionals onsite to manage patients’ conditions as problems arise. Traditionally, hospitals use psychiatrists as consultants, only bringing them to patients if providers have significant trouble with treatment.

However, research indicates that having a psychiatrist available on a regular basis can help hospital staff identify and treat mental health problems early on – before they become an obstacle to a patient’s recovery.

Team approach

Johns Hopkins Hospital decided to put this research into practice. After noticing that close to 20% of its discharged patients have mental health conditions, the facility’s started screening all patients for psychological issues upon admission.

And it’s piloted a behavior intervention team (BIT) in certain departments that’s led by a psychiatrist and includes a social worker and nurse practitioner, among other healthcare professionals.

Another hospital, Yale-New Haven, uses a similar approach with its patients who have psychiatric disorders.

With a BIT, mental health professionals make the rounds with other providers, asking patients questions to identify whether they need additional intervention for conditions like depression – or even hospital-acquired delirium. An early evaluation from a psychiatrist could keep these conditions from spiraling out of control.

Because most hospital providers are concentrating on treating patients for their physical illnesses, patients’ mental well-being can fall through the cracks. Many clinicians and specialists fail to recognize signs a patient may be in psychological distress – it’s not what they’re trained to do. That’s why an onsite psychiatrist can be helpful.

Why targeting mental health works

While some hospitals are hesitant to have a full-time BIT on site due to cost concerns, the cost savings through reduced admissions alone could make the investment worthwhile.

The approach has also shortened patients’ length of stay, which would give hospitals the capacity to admit more patients and earn more money.

And it could make a big difference with boosting patient outcomes as well.

Patients with untreated depressive episodes or other mental health disorders typically aren’t engaged in their health care post-discharge. They may have difficulty remembering to take their medications or schedule follow-up appointments. So getting a handle on their condition while they’re in the hospital can help them have a smoother recovery.

With Medicare calling on hospitals to make more of an effort to coordinate all forms of care to keep patients healthy, exploring the option of hiring a psychiatrist may be an excellent strategy for your hospital to provide better treatment to patients across the continuum of care.

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