Integrating mental health services within primary care
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The increasingly prominent role of the family physician in delivering mental health care can be enhanced if productive and collaborative relationships can be established with local mental health services. This paper describes a Canadian program that has achieved this by bringing mental health counselors and psychiatrists into the offices of 87 family physicians in 35 practices in a community in Southern Ontario. The paper describes the program, the activities of counselors and psychiatrists within the practices, and the administrative structures set up to coordinate these activities. Data is presented from the evaluation of the first year of the program's operation (13 practices and 45 family physicians) during which time 3085 referrals were received. The program made mental health care more available and accessible, increased continuity of care, provided additional support for the family physician, offered new opportunities for continuing education, and led to a reduced and more efficient use of other mental health services. The components of the program can be adapted to most communities.
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