Governor signs bill promoting psychiatric training for California’s primary care providers

The novel legislation, sponsored by the Steinberg Institute, is part of a broader effort to promote early intervention and prevention for people living with brain illness.

SACRAMENTO, CA – Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday signed into law novel legislation that will 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 brain illness.

The Steinberg Institute sponsored 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 provide appropriate referrals or treatment. The bill requires 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.

Multiple recent reports document the alarming disconnect between supply and demand for psychiatric services in the United States. According to the National Council for Behavioral Health, the ratio of psychiatrists to population in the U.S. declined by 10 percent between 2003 and 2013.

Nearly half the nation’s psychiatrists are private practitioners who operate on a cash-only basis. Another recent study found 55 percent of counties in the continental U.S. have no psychiatrists, and 77 percent have a severe shortage.

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 only about half the primary care patients with referrals for a mental health condition are able to access a provider.

AB 1340 encourages the Medical Board to build such training into the continuing education requirements for medical professionals.

The measure passed the Legislature with bipartisan support, and met with broad approval in the health care community. Among the groups supporting AB 1340: the California Psychiatric Association; the County Behavioral Health Directors Association; California Access Coalition; March of Dimes; the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance; and First Five California.

“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.”

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

The Steinberg Institute is a Sacramento-based nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing sound public policy and inspiring leadership on issues of mental health.

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