BOSTON, Oct. 14 (UPI) -- More than one-third of mental health care provided to children comes from primary care physicians, rather than child psychiatrists, according to a new study.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of 2011 about 6.4 million U.S. children ages 4 to 17 had been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, which can cause them to have difficulty paying attention and controlling impulsive behavior. While the neurobiological disorder is often treated with medication, counseling often is recommended as part of treatment.
"There just aren't enough child psychiatrists in the United States to treat every child with a mental health condition," Dr. Jeanne Van Cleave, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, told HealthDay. "Given that, any efforts to improve the quality of mental health care for children would be wise or appropriate to focus on improvements in primary health care, since that is where a lot of that care is happening."
Researches analyzed data on more than 43,000 children between the ages of 2 and 21 collected as part of the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey. They compared what type of clinician prescribed psychotropic medications to children undergoing treatment for ADHD and mental health conditions.
Nearly a quarter of children, 23.8 percent, received care from multiple providers. However, just over one-third of children, 34.8 percent, received care from a primary care physician, 26.2 percent saw psychiatrists only, and 15.2 saw only psychologists or social workers.
A significantly greater proportion of children with ADHD, 41.7 percent, saw a primary care physician only, as compared with 17.2 percent of those with anxiety or mood disorders. Additionally, 73.7 percent of children with ADHD who saw only a primary care physician were prescribed medication, as opposed to 61.4 percent of children that were seeing a psychiatrist receiving a prescription.
Van Cleave said better collaboration between primary care physicians and child psychiatrists is necessary to be sure proper care is given, with easy consultation available either for doctors or for patients themselves.
"There needs to be some kind of communication between specialists to track the patient's progress," Van Cleave told Healthline. "The sizable number of children needing mental health treatment highlights the importance of supporting pediatricians in these roles," Van Cleave said.
The study is published in the journal Pediatrics.