I guess the magical thinking about how a purely political initiative with absolutely no grounding in science will affect the practice of medicine will never cease. The latest speculation is from the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry and commentary from several prominent psychiatrists (see reference) on "The Effects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on the Practice of Psychiatry." I know I have said this before but there is so much wrong with this piece, it is difficult to know where to start.
The centerpiece like most discussions of the Affordable Care Act focuses in integrated care. I criticized the American Psychiatric Association for backing any proposal that relegates psychiatry to a peripheral supervisory position looking at so-called measurements to determine if the clinic population is "healthy" or if they need more treatment (translation = antidepressants). There is weak evidence in this article that this model will be the bonus it promises to be. Care given in the Department of Veteran's Affairs (VA) clinic is given as example of how things might be. A patient seeing multiple specialists may receive care from multiple specialists without personally having to coordinate that care. As a patient at the Mayo Clinic - it has been that way for decades. In fact, if they know you are from out of town they can frequently coordinate that care on the fly so it can all happen the same day! No patient aligned care teams necessary there. Just a good system.
There was a statement about how the ACA could hurt psychiatric care of the seriously mentally ill because the states who previously paid for that care will want to bail out. The discussants point out "although the ACA plans to reimburse certain institutions for emergency inpatient psychiatric care for Medicaid patients, other evidence based practices for treating severe and persistent mental disorders are not usually covered by health insurance." Let me translate that for you. That means there will be even fewer inpatient services. The inpatient care for mental health and severe addictions takes another hit. After three decades of decimation by the managed care industry and that same industry shifting the treatment cost for these severe mental disorders to the state - we are going to pretend that nobody needs these services and continue to downsize. After all, there have been no enlightened managed care CEOs to date who decided that these services were actually important enough to adequately fund. Why would they now that they have the leverage to shift all of the money to the all important Medical Home?
The idea that physicians will be paid by "value rather than volume" had me laughing out loud. I pictured the Medical Home psychiatric consultant poring over the clinic's latest batch of PHQ-9 scores and deciding which patient's antidepressants needed tweaking based on this checklist and the cryptic note of a primary care provider. Will we need more checklists for side effects and unexpected effects on the patient's conscious state? Will we need checklists for neuroleptic malignant syndrome or serotonin syndrome? What about the FDA's recent concern about arrhythmias? Cardiovascular review of systems or electrocardiogram? That will be a lot of paperwork to look over. I wonder what the consultant will be paid for delivering that level of "value". Of course all of the discussants were aware of the fact that most psychiatrists will be employees of some sort or another. Those who have not been assimilated may be in concierge practices or private practice, but good luck interfacing with the ACO.
The all important technology card was played and how that should cause us all to swoon. Online or computerized therapy was mentioned. That modality has been available for over 20 years and not a single insurance company or managed care company has implemented it. Any cost benefit analysis favors an inexpensive assessment (PHQ-9 + low intensity primary care visit) and even less expensive medications prescribed as quickly as possible. The unmentioned tragedy of the electronic health record is how much psychiatric assessments have been dumbed down. The loss of information and intelligence due to the electronic health record is absolutely stunning. Phenomenological elements that require a substantial narrative or interpretation by a thinking psychiatrist are totally gone. All that is left is a template of binary elements that are important only for billing and business purposes. I suppose the lawyers might like the fact that you check the "Not suicidal" box before a patient is hurriedly discharged.
Psychiatry without a narrative or a formulation or a rationale is not psychiatry at all. In the end that is what the ACA leaves us with.
George Dawson, MD, DFAPA
Ebert MH, Findling RL, Gelenberg AJ, Kane JM, Nierenberg AA, Tariot PN. The effects of the Affordable Care Act on the practice of psychiatry. J Clin Psychiatry. 2013 Apr;74(4):357-61; quiz 362. doi: 10.4088/JCP.12128co1c. PubMed PMID: 23656840.