Senate passes legislation urging basic psychiatric training for primary care providers

The novel legislation, sponsored by the Steinberg Institute, now is just one step away from the Governor’s desk. 

SACRAMENTO – The California Senate unanimously approved novel legislation Tuesday that would help ensure primary care providers in California are trained to recognize the symptoms of common psychiatric conditions, part of a broader effort to promote early intervention and prevention for people living with mental illness.

The Steinberg Institute is sponsoring Assembly Bill 1340, by Assemblymember Brian Maienschein, R-San Diego, with the aim of giving front-line providers the tools they need to assess basic psychiatric conditions and refer patients for appropriate care.  The bill would amend the state’s Business and Professions Code to require that the Medical Board of California consider including in its continuing medical education requirements a course on integrating mental and physical health care in primary care settings.

Studies indicate as many as 40 percent of patients seen in a primary care setting on any given day have an active psychiatric condition. Yet most primary care providers have minimal training in psychiatry as part of their medical education. Studies also show that fewer than half of primary care patients with mental illness receive any treatment.

The measure has met with broad approval in the health care community, including support from the California Psychiatric Association, the County Behavioral Health Directors Association, California Access Coalition, First 5 California, the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, and March of Dimes.

“Given the important and trusted roles that family physicians play in the healthy development of children, it is invaluable that our health care professionals have the capacity to identify and assess a wide range of mental health issues, including exposure to trauma,” Dave Neilsen, senior advocate with the California Alliance of Child and Family Services, wrote in support of the measure. “Without this new guidance to the Board, we continue to risk that health care is delivered in disconnected segments, rather than in a coordinated and effective manner.”

Sen. Richard Pan, a Sacramento Democrat, presented the bill on the Senate floor. Pan, who is a pediatrician, noted that suicide has now become the leading cause of death for children ages 10 to 14.

“AB 1340 will ensure that pediatricians and general practitioners are trained in recognizing the early signs of mental health issues in children and young adults,” Pan said.

The bill now returns to the Assembly for concurrence, leaving it just one step away from the Governor’s desk.

For more information, contact Steinberg Institute Government Affairs Director ">Adrienne Shilton, (916) 553-4167. 

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