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Developing Effective Collaboration Between Primary Care and Mental Health Providers

Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry 2006;8(1):12-16

Objective: Improving care for depressed primary care (PC) patients requires system-level interventions based on chronic illness management with collaboration among primary care providers (PCPs) and mental health providers (MHPs). We describe the development of an effective collaboration system for an ongoing multisite Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) study evaluating a multifaceted program to improve management of major depression in PC practices.

Method: Translating Initiatives for Depression into Effective Solutions (TIDES) is a research project that helps VA facilities adopt depression care improvements for PC patients with depression. A regional telephone-based depression care management program used Depression Case Managers (DCMs) supervised by MHPs to assist PCPs with patient management. The Collaborative Care Workgroup (CWG) was created to facilitate collaboration between PCPs, MHPs, and DCMs. The CWG used a 3-phase process: (1) identify barriers to better depression treatment, (2) identify target problems and solutions, and (3) institutionalize ongoing problem detection and solution through new policies and procedures.

Results: The CWG overcame barriers that exist between PCPs and MHPs, leading to high rates of the following: patients with depression being followed by PCPs (82%), referred PC patients with depression keeping their appointments with MHPs (88%), and PC patients with depression receiving antidepressants (76%). The CWG helped sites implement site-specific protocols for addressing patients with suicidal ideation.

Conclusion: By applying these steps in PC practices, collaboration between PCPs and MHPs has been improved and maintained. These steps offer a guide to improving collaborative care to manage depression or other chronic disorders within PC clinics.