It seems like everywhere you turn there are just not enough doctors. Indeed, the doctor shortage is as profound in psychiatry as it is in family medicine. Patients looking to see a psychiatrist can wait for months for an appointment because there just aren’t enough psychiatrists offering services in the local area. The good news is that help is available through mid-level assistance.
An emerging trend in psychiatry is seeing doctors utilize the services of nurse practitioners, advanced practice registered nurses, and physician assistants to handle some of the low-level responsibilities. Contributor Brian Albright wrote about it in a piece published by Behavioral Healthcare Executive in mid-July. Albright interviewed a Missouri psychiatrist for his piece.
According to Albright, psychiatrists are coming to the realization that they cannot meet all the needs of their patients by insisting on being the only one who sees them. They are coming to realize that there are some low-level tasks that can be accomplished by mid-level practitioners, thereby freeing them to spend more time with patients who need face time.
NPs Lending a Helping Hand
Albright’s piece mentions nurse practitioners (NPs) and their contributions to psychiatry jobs across the country. Some 21 states along with the District of Columbia already allow NPs to practice without direct oversight by a doctor. They can diagnose patients, order tests, prescribe medications, and offer treatment plans. Psychiatric patients that do not require consistent face time with a doctor can still be effectively treated by an NP.
A great example of this would be that patient who simply needs a basic evaluation before a prescription can be renewed. There is no need for that patient to wait months to see a psychiatrist when an NP can handle it. The NP benefits from the increased workload, the psychiatrist benefits from a decreased workload, and the patient still gets the required care.
Physician assistants (PAs) with specialty psychiatric training are also coming to the aid of doctors who need help. Albright mentioned a National Council paper published back in March to prove the point. According to that paper, bringing PAs in to help psychiatrists is one of the most cost-effective solutions out there.
Collaboration Is Still Required
Bringing in mid-level practitioners to assist psychiatrists can be very helpful, but it is not a panacea. Psychiatric jobs still exist because doctors cannot be entirely replaced. Furthermore, even states that allow mid-level assistance often require that those mid-level practitioners collaborate with a psychiatrist. Collaboration is key to the successful treatment of psychiatric patients.
Locums Can Also Help
Mid-level practitioners represent just one way to help psychiatrists. Another tremendous help is the locum tenens industry. What used to be considered a way of practicing medicine reserved only for those who could not open a private practice or land a permanent job has become an entire career choice in of itself. Locum tenens doctors are now just as respected and mainstream as their permanent placement counterparts.
Locums can be brought in to help meet demand on a temporary basis. They can be used to keep a practice up and running when the doctor needs some time away. Locum tenens psychiatrists can even be used to provide supplemental service that allows a practice to stay open later or open up a satellite location a few days each week.
The point of all of this is to say that psychiatrists do not have to continue to bear the entire burden on their own. Between mid-level practitioners and locum tenens providers, there are ways to lighten the load so that psychiatrists can devote themselves to the most demanding cases.
Picture Credt: Semevent