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Integrated child psychiatry and medical care

Top 3 benefits of a psychiatry program with integrated medical care

If your child sustained a traumatic injury as the result of a car accident, the need for medical care would be obvious. Broken bones, damaged organs, and lacerations have visible effects that can’t be ignored. But what if your child became depressed during rehabilitation, or developed aggressive tendencies or anger management issues they hadn’t previously exhibited? Because psychiatric and behavioral conditions are less visible and sometimes less urgent, they’re often overlooked in medical environments. Even when these conditions are recognized, primary medical settings aren’t always equipped to provide simultaneous psychiatric and behavioral care.

Despite the growing body of research demonstrating improved outcomes for patients receiving coordinated medical and behavioral care, the U.S. healthcare system remains split. Most mental health settings lack robust medical resources, while many medical facilities don’t have the infrastructure for behavioral and psychiatric treatment. These systemic limitations severely limit the effectiveness of both treatment modalities.

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, up to 70% of children with mental health conditions receive treatment in primary care settings, but many of these facilities do not have the resources or expertise to provide comprehensive psychiatric care.1 Likewise, a report by the National Alliance on Mental Illness found that many general hospitals do not have sufficient psychiatric care resources, leading to longer wait times for evaluations and hospital transfers, fragmented care, and inferior outcomes.2 (Learn more about the mental and physical healthcare divide in the U.S.)

Integrated, single-setting pediatric care has been shown to significantly enhance patient wellbeing. Comprehensive programs address the physical, emotional, and social needs of children, coordinating care to improve treatment quality and reduce costs. In this article, we’ll explore three ways in which integrated medical care and psychiatry programs can dramatically improve patient outcomes.

1. Multidisciplinary care enables comprehensive healing

To illustrate the benefits of integrated care, let’s revisit the example of a traumatic injury resulting from a car accident. In the moments following a collision, intensive medical care is the primary concern. Close monitoring and even surgery could be urgently necessary to address internal trauma or neurological damage.

As patients stabilize and regain awareness following a serious injury, their emotional reactions become more apparent. Many patients develop affective and behavioral disorders as a direct result of trauma and hospitalization. In fact, one study found that up to 35% of patients who received critical care in hospitals developed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, such as intrusive thoughts, nightmares, and avoidance behaviors.3

Conversely, children presenting with mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety sometimes resort to self-harm and even suicide attempts. We often see this behavior in pediatric patients who have experienced neglect or abandonment resulting in malnourishment. In such cases, medical supervision is necessary, in addition to robust psychiatric care.

In a comprehensive care facility, patients have immediate access to physicians, psychiatrists, and rehabilitative therapists, so they don’t have to choose between physical or emotional healing. At Nexus Children’s Hospital, our programs are staffed with interdisciplinary experts who work closely together, sharing insights and coordinating care to ensure the whole child — body and mind — receives adequate care.

2. Combining medical expertise and a psychiatry program can improve medical outcomes

Interdisciplinary care is not only more holistic and efficient, but also more effective. Studies show a statistically significant link between comprehensive treatment and improved medical outcomes. In a 2012 review of 79 studies, for example, integrated care was shown to promote better physical health outcomes, including improved diabetes control, lower blood pressure, and improved asthma management.

At Nexus, we see these improved outcomes on a daily basis. By collaborating across specialties, our clinicians develop highly personalized treatment plans that synthesize insights from multiple disciplines, as well as the entirety of a patient’s history and symptoms. When children and adolescents feel emotionally stable and supported, they approach medical goals with a more positive outlook, leading to improved physical health.

3. Integrated networks of care provide vital social support

Another benefit of comprehensive pediatric programs is the layer of social support they provide. Therapists, case managers, and even other patients and families can share valuable insight and knowledge in these programs. For children and caregivers navigating chronic illness or recovery from a traumatic injury, feeling supported by a network of peers and professionals can reduce stress and improve overall wellbeing.

We believe it takes a village to heal the whole child. That’s why Nexus programs incorporate training, education, and emotional support for families and encourage interaction among patients. When caregivers and patients are equipped with comprehensive knowledge about co-occurring conditions, they feel more hopeful and positive, which improves medical outcomes. A 2018 study of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease illustrates this dynamic: those with high levels of social support had better lung function and were less likely to experience exacerbations of their condition.4 

Find integrated medical and behavioral care at Nexus Children’s Hospital

We understand the critical importance of integrated medical and behavioral care. That’s why our pediatric programs are staffed with multidisciplinary teams representing a range of specialties, from medical and psychiatric to behavioral and rehabilitative care. Providing a home away from home as children progress through their journey to healing, we offer safe, nurturing pediatric environments for children and adolescents with primary medical issues and co-occurring psychiatric or behavioral conditions.

Learn more about how we integrate medical and behavioral care in Nexus programs.

1Improving Mental Health Services in Primary Care, American Academy of Pediatrics

2The Doctor Is Out: Continuing Disparities in Access to Mental and Physical Health Care, NAMI

3PTSD Symptoms Common Among ICU Survivors, Johns Hopkins Medicine

4COPD Care in the 21st Century: A Public Health Priority, Respiratory Care

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