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For psychiatric services, wait for the beep
Date:2/25/2009

(PHILADELPHIA) Two-thirds of patients referred for psychiatric services following an emergency room visit are likely to reach only an answering machine when they call for help, compared to about 20 percent of patients calling medical clinics with physical symptoms. Only 10 percent of all calls to mental health clinics in nine U.S. cities resulted in an appointment scheduled within two weeks, according to a new University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine study published in Annals of Emergency Medicine.

"Our results indicate that even the most motivated patients will have difficulty obtaining timely appointments and pursuing treatment for mental health complaints, despite prior studies that fault patient non-compliance for poor follow-up rates for psychiatric conditions," says lead author Karin V. Rhodes, MD, assistant professor of Emergency Medicine and Director of Penn's Division of Emergency Care Policy Research. "As we approach health care reform, we need to redouble our efforts toward improving mental health parity and design our health systems in ways that do not discourage people from getting important treatment."

Since emergency departments are safety net providers for uninsured and underinsured patients, they are frequently the location where mental illnesses like depression which affects 17 percent of all Americans at some point in their lives -- are first identified. But because emergency departments are designed to treat acute illnesses and injuries and are not equipped to evaluate and care for non-emergent mental health conditions, these patients are most often referred for psychiatric care in the community. The Penn study found, however, that mental health patients encounter many roadblocks only voicemail on the other end of the phone, or unreasonably long waits for an appointment when trying to access that care.

The study findings showed that even private insurance did not ensure access: If and when a caller
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Contact: Holly Auer
holly.auer@uphs.upenn.edu
215-349-5659
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
Source:Eurekalert

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