Psychiatric nurse practitioners are filling the vacuum in mental health treatment, despite the fact that it has reached crisis proportions in the United States, according to a recent study.
The researchers found that as fewer psychiatrists accepted Medicare, the mental health system in the United States has become more dependent on this particular type of professionals to address the demands of Medicare patients.
According to corresponding research author Michael Barnett, “We were surprised by the extent to which PMHNPs [psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners] are the de facto mental health prescribers in some parts of the country.” He teaches health policy and administration as an associate professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.
According to a Harvard news release, “these providers account for 50% of all mental health prescriber visits in rural areas in the states where PMHNPs have no restrictions on prescribing medications, which was much greater than we had anticipated.”
The researchers examined fee-for-service Medicare data from 2011 to 2019 to investigate the problem. The team concentrated on the quantity of outpatient and psychiatric services provided by various provider groups, as well as the number of PMHNPs and psychiatrists invoicing Medicare. They also examined the figures’ variations according to rurality and laws that may limit a mental nurse practitioner’s ability to administer medicine.
The researchers discovered that psychiatric nurse practitioners performed almost one in three of the mental health prescriber visits to Medicare patients in 2019. Between 2011 and 2019, the number of psychiatrists billing Medicare decreased by 6%, but the number of psychiatric nurse practitioners climbed by 162%.
Without the expansion of the workforce of psychiatric nurse practitioners, the researchers hypothesised that the number of Medicare patients seeing mental health specialists during these years would have fallen by 30%, but instead decreased by 12%.
According to Barnett, “This work highlights PMHNPs as a crucial component of the mental health workforce.” “This is crucial since our nation is currently experiencing a mental health crisis for which we urgently require fresh approaches. An important component of the national effort to increase access to mental health services could be policy that targets the PMHNP workforce.