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Blog | May 04, 2022 | Article

Mental Health Awareness Month: How to Support Your Patients

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By agilon health staff

Stress and Mental Health

It’s no secret that we are a stressed-out population, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only made the problem worse. For you and your colleagues, this can mean a higher risk of physician burnout. For your older patients, this can manifest as an increase in mental health issues. A report from the CDC reveals that rates of anxiety or depressive disorder in older adults have increased during the pandemic.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and the perfect time to understand the mental health state of PCPs and their patients, and to explore ways to improve mental health.

The Toll on Primary Care Physicians

According to a survey by Medical Economics, around 71% of physicians reported exhaustion and burnout in 2020. As the practice of medicine moves further out of the autonomy of physicians, burnout will likely escalate, and data indicate that primary care physicians are affected most. Research from the College of Health and Human Services at George Mason University found that PCPs reported burnout at twice the rate of other health care professionals in primary care practices. The primary cause? Changes in care delivery and administrative processes, the research found.

 Stress and burnout are impacting the practice of medicine with more physicians retiring early or changing jobs. This is particularly troubling when you consider the number of mid-career physicians leaving the profession and promising talent deciding not to choose medicine as a career at all. In a survey by the Primary Care Collaborative, 40% of surveyed PCPs indicate a concern that primary care will be gone in five years.

Physician burnout means fewer and lower-quality interactions with patients at a time when more patients are turning to their PCPs with their own mental health concerns.

Unique and Complex Challenges

As a physician who cares for older people, you see the damaging effects of stress, depression, and anxiety on your patients’ physical health.  Treating your Medicare patients’ mental health adequately means addressing the challenges they face every day. Age-related issues can include a decline in the five senses, lower muscle mass and bone density, increased risk of comorbidities, cognitive changes, and a greater likelihood of chronic diseases, such as heart disease and arthritis. All this can lead to problems in your patients’ emotional, psychological and social well-being.

Diagnosing mental health issues in this patient population can sometimes be difficult. Physical conditions can present as behavioral impairments and vice versa. Depression is often seen in patients with physical ailments, and symptoms of dementia and delirium may appear in combination with other behavioral health and physical health conditions.

Older patients who haven’t previously experienced mental health issues may have difficulty recognizing the onset of a mental condition because symptoms frequently develop over time. As a primary care physician, you can identify mental health issues and provide referrals to behavioral health specialists during regular wellness visits. Medicare patients are more likely to reach out first to their primary care physicians about anxiety and depression. A recent study backs this up, with more than 30% of adults between 50 and 80 saying they preferred to speak with their primary care physician about mental health concerns.

PCPs are in the best position to support their Medicare patients’ physical and mental health care needs. But doing all that takes time – something PCPs and most other medical professionals find lacking. It’s clear that working harder isn’t the solution. Both physicians and patients need a more supportive environment.

Moving toward a total care model can empower PCPs to spend more time with patients and focus on their total health. That’s good news for patients and good news for doctors.

Improving the Mental Health of PCPs and Their Patients

With a traditional fee-for-service model, the emphasis is on seeing as many patients as possible. That model not only takes the agency of the practice of medicine away from PCPs and causes burnout, but it also doesn’t deliver the kind of patient care that can support mental health well-being for Medicare patients.

A value-based total care model helps improve the patient experience and creates a system based on the quality of care, not the volume of fees. It allows physicians to have the time to correctly support their Medicare patients to help them manage their acute and chronic conditions and their mental health.

agilon provides the capital, data, payor relationships, executive experience, and contract support that allow physician groups to take on the risk of total care for their most vulnerable patients. At the center of our Total Care Model is our unified operating platform. It combines people, process, and technology to help our physician partners identify gaps in care, integrate seamlessly with payors, grow their practices, and identify untapped opportunities for improved outcomes. The platform is shaped to fit each physician’s own local market.

Through these tools, we are empowering physicians to transform the future of healthcare in their communities.

Managing Your Practice with agilon

There’s a lot to manage in the practice of medicine, especially when you support the needs of Medicare patients. While May is Mental Health Awareness month, staying informed and engaged about how these challenges affect your patients’ well-being – and your own mental wellness – is something you can do all year long. Learn more about how agilon health can make it easier to focus on providing care and developing your practice.

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