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Primary Care Physicians Bridge Mental Health Gaps

Jacqueline Fellows, for HealthLeaders Media, March 20, 2014

Harvard Medical School's Center for Primary Care uses staff social workers, community resource specialists, and, eventually, telepsychiatry to make mental health part of its healthcare practice.

Harvard Medical School launched an ambitious plan to transform primary care delivery and education four years ago with the opening of its Center for Primary Care. Aimed at developing models of sustainable transformation to help doctors deliver better care under tremendous cost and quality pressure, one of its recent projects is now tackling mental health.

Called the Alice Rosenwald Initiative, the program involves six primary care practices in Massachusetts that are taking steps to integrate mental health services for their patients using a team-based approach. Four of the primary care sites are affiliated with Cambridge, Mass.–based Cambridge Health Alliance, the integrated health system that is also a teaching hospital for Harvard Medical School. The other two sites are affiliated with Boston Children's Hospital. Eventually, the mental health integration initiative will be implemented at all six Harvard-affiliated hospitals as well as 19 practices.

"Mental health disorders are so common that it's really part of the skill set that primary care doctors need to have in order to be a resource and help their patients manage their health," says Russell Phillips, MD, director of the Center for Primary Care. Phillips is also a practicing primary care physician at HealthCare Associates, a primary care practice at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

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