If the federal health reform initiative proceeds apace, before long almost all Americans will have health insurance. But there are nowhere near enough physicians to care for all of us—especially as the population ages.
Many approaches make sense to enhance the quality and efficiency of our care system—including algorithms, more effective use of extenders, electronic decision support, and patient education. Another feature to come is more selective use of specialists—including psychiatrists.
When care is paid for by a third party, we cannot afford to have many patients cared for primarily by a specialist. The model to come will have specialists create algorithms and protocols for primary care providers (PCPs). Specialists will be available for brief electronic or phone consultations and, less commonly, for one-on-one direct consultation with patients. A psychiatrist will see a patient and refer the patient back to a PCP, with backup as needed. Sometimes we may see the patient for a few visits to ensure stability.
There will always be a small cadre of chronically ill patients who require ongoing care from specialists—brittle diabetics, unstable cardiac patients, and in psychiatry, people who suffer from schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, for example. People who pay out of pocket can call their own tune. But for most Americans, care will have to be more rationalized. I regularly point out to medical students and residents that this will soon change the way we practice and the lives we lead.
-Alan J. Gelenberg, M.D.
Editor, Biological Therapies in Psychiatry
Shively/Tan Professor and Chair, Psychiatry, Penn State University
Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Clinical Psychiatry