Five Action Items for Pediatricians
When asked what steps pediatricians can take right now to join the fight for better pediatric mental health, Dr. Kaplan offered five key takeaways which lead directly to actionable steps.
#1: Don’t be intimidated
“Many pediatricians shy away from diagnosing and treating mental illness in children, simply because they were never trained to do so,” states Kaplan. In these times when mental health care is so needed and yet so scarce, pediatricians should feel empowered to seek out resources and apply this knowledge to help their underserved patients. According to Kaplan, “Even offering simple, brief interventions in the form of short cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or mindfulness techniques can be doable in the primary care setting when practitioners seek out just a little additional training.
#2: Gather helpful resources
According to Kaplan, “It’s easy to put together lists of local mental healthcare providers for referrals and to gather and administer screening tools for common issues such as developmental delays, ADHD, and depression. Just having a resource list is a great first step towards feeling empowered to help patients in new ways.”
#3: Educate yourself on common medications
“There are limited medications for the treatment of mental illness with pediatric applications,” explains Kaplan. He recommends that physicians familiarize themselves with the medications, use cases, side effects, and more in order to address the most common issues in primary care settings whenever possible.”
#4: Make good use of screening tools
Kaplan encouraged all pediatricians, especially those in states like Texas that do not require regular screenings for developmental, behavioral, and mental health issues, to seek out the right screening tools for the identification of problems in patients as they arise. Kaplan recommends the Comprehensive Health and Decision Information System (CHADIS), which is a web-based platform developed by Total Child Health, Inc. that delivers dozens of screening tools for use by pediatricians to assess the developmental, behavioral, and mental health of their patients in primary care settings. “Sometimes you feel shackled by what you can do in the context of a small, independent practice,” explains Kaplan. “The screening tools provided by CHADIS allow you to identify when something you suspect is actually there, which is a huge relief to both physicians and caregivers.”
With proper screening and improved access to mental health resources, Kaplan believes that pediatricians can address and treat 75-80 percent of the most common mental, behavioral, and development health concerns in the primary care setting. According to Kaplan, “These tools, when used properly, can especially empower smaller independent pediatric practices to act as the first line of defense in this current mental health crisis.”
#5: Utilize telemedicine
Even with better training, screening tools, and access to mental health resources, the services pediatricians are able to provide may be limited simply by lack of physical access to and from a provider’s office. That’s why Kaplan recommends adopting and utilizing telemedicine tools. While telemedicine has existed since the 90s, the rate of adoption was fairly flat until COVID restrictions made it necessary for patients to seek treatment outside of the traditional office visit. According to a July 2021 McKinsey article, telehealth usage stabilized at a level 38 times higher than before the pandemic. Encouragingly, Beckers Hosptial Review reported that behavioral health visits were virtual 46.1 percent of the time as compared to 22.1 percent of medical visits, a development that indicates that patients are embracing telemedicine specifically for this purpose. Kaplan encourages to capitalize on this trend to drive mental health treatment accessibility.