The increasing demand for mental health services, coupled with a slim supply of physicians trained to provide aid, has exacerbated the mental health crisis in the US. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in five American adults suffers from mental illness, and nearly one in five adolescents have had or are continuing to suffer from a mental illness. The state of mental health in the US is precarious, at best, and just when we need mental healthcare more than ever, like other medical specialties, we are faced with a serious shortage of psychiatrists.
The situation seems bleak, but just as we have seen in other areas of healthcare, advanced practice providers (APPs) are proving to be a critical element in expanding access to care. Healthcare organizations of all types are taking notice and increasingly looking to hire advanced practice providers who specialize in mental health.
Mental Healthcare: An Imbalance of Supply and Demand
The mental health crisis is the result of a perfect storm of circumstances: 1) rising levels of depression and anxiety due to the pandemic, social media usage, cultural changes, etc., 2) a nationwide opioid epidemic creating a large patient population in need of mental health services, 3) a significant portion (60%) of psychiatrists in the workforce are already over age 55, and 4) increasing physician burnout among psychiatrists causing them to reduce their hours or stop taking insurance and therefore see fewer patients.
According to the AAMC, a third of Americans currently live in areas without access to a mental healthcare provider, and the data indicates this is likely to get worse. In 2021, 61.6% of active psychiatrists were over the age of 55. So, more than six in ten psychiatrists will reach retirement age in the next eight years. Research from Psychiatry Services predicts the US will see a shortage of between 14,280 and 31,091 psychiatrists by next year. This prediction, published in 2018, doesn’t even factor in the impact of the pandemic on both patient demand and physician burnout.
There are clearly not enough psychiatrists to meet the demand for mental healthcare. So, who will treat the more than 50 million American adults battling a mental illness?
Advanced Practice Providers to the Rescue
The answer can be found in the very studies that show psychiatrists are already seeing fewer patients. In two separate studies, published by Health Affairs and reported on by Patient Engagement HIT, researchers found Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners (PMHNPs) and Physician Assistants (PAs) are filling in the gaps where psychiatrists cannot meet patients’ needs. The first study tracked Medicare data which showed that while psychiatric visits declined by 29% from 2011 to 2019, visits with PMHNPs increased by 111%. By 2019, the percentage of PMHNPs treating Medicare beneficiaries grew by 162%. Researchers concluded PMHNPs see the same types of patients as psychiatrists, work in similar settings, as well as diagnose and treat in similar ways.
The second study documented how changes that allowed APPs to prescribe buprenorphine significantly expanded access to medication-assisted therapy (MAT) for adults suffering from opioid use disorder. This study reinforces the takeaway of the former: advanced practice providers are helping to meet the mental health needs of patients when physicians cannot.
Placement data from Jackson Physician Search also shows an increasing number of APPs are being hired. According to our internal data, we successfully placed four times as many Nurse Practitioners in 2022 as we did in 2020, and all mental health provider placements, including advanced practice providers specializing in mental healthcare, have increased by 85% in the same timeframe.
Now Hiring: Healthcare Organizations Seek Mental Health Advanced Practice Providers
Healthcare organizations of all types and sizes are considering how to better meet the mental health needs of their patients. According to a September MGMA STAT poll, 30% of medical practices are planning to add or expand behavioral health services at their organizations this year, and many of them will leverage advanced practice providers to do so. The MGMA poll found many are planning to integrate mental health services into a primary care setting. This approach allows patients to conveniently receive treatment for mental health issues in the same place they go for basic care. Several respondents specifically cited adding APPs to manage ADHD, anxiety, and depression evaluations.
Incorporating advanced practice providers into the care team is already proving successful in rural areas, and it is not a new approach in the world of mental health. There are many benefits of hiring advanced practice providers, and organizations of all types leverage them to support physicians and meet patient demand. Advanced practice providers have been known to increase patient satisfaction, boost their organizations’ bottom lines, and reduce the burden on physicians, which in turn decreases burnout and improves retention. These outcomes are valuable, of course, but when it comes to mental healthcare, the expanded access that advanced practice providers bring is more than nice to have — it’s a must-have. Advanced practice providers who specialize in mental health are a critical part of the solution if the industry hopes to meet the rising demand for services that is sure to continue in the coming years.
Could your organization benefit from adding an advanced practice provider specializing in mental healthcare? The recruitment team at Jackson Physician Search has the national reach and regional expertise to connect you with the best APP candidates for the job. Reach out today to learn more.
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