Health experts across the United States are looking for every opportunity to ease an increasing demand for mental health services. Mental health patients can have complex needs and often require the expertise of multiple providers. Minnesota is no exception to this demand. At the same time, many primary care providers throughout the state do not feel qualified to treat mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. Instead, they often refer patients to specialized psychiatric providers. This approach can cause delayed care and a lack of coordinated, comprehensive care.
“Mental health psychiatric care is often thought of as a specialty area, and it is, just like every other area,” said Dr. Amy L. Pittenger, professor and the head of Pharmaceutical Care & Health-Systems at the University of Minnesota (UMN) College of Pharmacy. “But it is also a chronic condition that can and should be managed within the primary care setting by ambulatory care, primary care providers.”
To help alleviate some of these issues, UMN College of Pharmacy established the Interprofessional Integrative Mental Health Focus Area, initially as a grant-funded effort through the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration. Within this focus area, Pharm.D. students are paired with psychiatric Doctor of Nursing Practice (D.N.P.) students on a 1:1 ratio. This helps them “develop additional collaborative practice skills and expanded knowledge of psychiatric-specific practice approaches,” according to UMN.
Rather than creating a specialty psychiatric pharmacy path, the focus area encourages collaboration among primary care clinicians. This prepares them to offer better team-based care for patients with mental health needs. Focus area participants gain additional knowledge and experience in caring for the whole patient, both physically and mentally. In particular, student pharmacists are better prepared to provide medication management for chronic mental health conditions.