Mental Health Referral Process: Start with your Primary Care PhysicianThe first place to start if you think you may have a mental health concern is with your family doctor. Your primary care physician (PCP) should know you best when it comes to your health and should be the first step in the mental health referral process.
Benefit One: Establish a BaselineAs opposed to seeing a mental health specialist right away, regular visits to your PCP can help establish a baseline for your health. When your primary doc makes a referral, he or she can discuss treatment options according to your specific needs. Whereas, without a baseline, a mental health specialist may have to rely on generalizations in order to start treatment. Think of it this way, inviting your PCP to guide you through the mental health referral process is not unlike allowing a friend to set you up on a blind date. A friend that knows you well can arrange a match that will have a better outcome than one set up by an acquaintance. The same is true for your doctor – a doctor that knows you personally can lead you to the right medical specialist.
Benefit Two: A Friend for the RoadThe second benefit of seeing your primary care physician first is that he or she can walk the journey with you. Back to the friend analogy, a compassionate family doctor will stand with you as you together decide how best to travel the road of mental health. For example, you may need medication, but medication alone may not help long-term. Coping skills in combination with medication can often help prevent future episodes, which is where a family practitioner comes in. A caring physician understands that mental health is a real concern and will travel the journey with you until you feel normal again.
Benefit Three: Manage Your HealthA specialist cannot refer you to another specialist. By issuing all the referrals, your PCP is able to oversee the care you receive and help you see the specialist that is right for you.
Recommendations and Your RoleYour primary care physician likely has a referral circle that he or she may recommend you see depending on your mental health concerns. But how do you know you are getting a quality recommendation? Use these questions to determine if your PCP has an established relationship with the specialist to which he or she is referring you.
Questions for your physician:
- How long have you worked with the physician you are referring?
- How often do you work with the physician you are referring?
- What type of communication will occur between you and the physician you are referring? Email, phone calls, other?
- How often will you talk with the physician you are referring to my case?
- Who will be managing my overall care? And have you discussed this with the physician you are referring?