Mental Health Care Disparities Impact Population Health

From the article by Jacqueline Belliveau in HealthIT Analytics:

Some of the biggest challenges that healthcare providers face when developing effective population health management strategies include racial and ethnic care disparities and integrating mental and physical health.

Based on the finds of a new study in Psychiatric Services, healthcare providers may need to tackle both challenges at the same time to improve population health management programs.

Researchers discovered that non-Hispanic blacks are twice as likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia compared to non-Hispanic whites. However, non-Hispanic blacks were also far less likely to be prescribed medication for the condition.

Even though a substantial portion of minority populations suffer from a mental health condition, non-Hispanic whites were 77.8 percent more likely to be prescribed a psychotropic medication as part of a treatment plan.

“It’s concerning that we saw a higher rate of diagnosis of schizophrenia and seemingly an under-treatment in terms of pharmacotherapy for that group,” said Ashli A. Owen-Smith, co-author of the study and assistant professor of Health Management and Policy in the School of Public Health at Georgia State University. “In general, pharmacotherapy is an important part of the treatment plan. That’s a finding that warrants some additional research.”

With approximately 25 percent of the adult population experiencing a mental health disorder, the healthcare system spends an estimated $300 billion each year on behavioral conditions.

Population health management initiatives could be beneficial for patients that suffer from psychiatric disorders, which the study claimed can be more debilitating than physical chronic conditions.

Using EHR and claims data, researchers aimed to uncover racial and ethnic care disparities in mental health at 11 healthcare systems that are part of the Mental Health Research Network.

Researchers found that mental health disorders were prevalent among all racial and ethnic groups. Out of the 7.5 million patients from 2011 that were studied, researchers determined that 1.2 million received a psychiatric diagnosis, which accounts for 15.6 percent of the total population.

However, diagnosis rates significantly varied depending on racial and ethnic populations. Among patients with a mental health diagnosis, Native Americans and Alaskan natives had the highest rate of diagnosis with 20.6 percent. Asians had the lowest rate with only 7.5 percent.

The study also noted that psychiatric diagnoses for depression and anxiety were actually lower in the racial and ethnic minority groups than non-Hispanic whites.

Researchers also revealed that most of the patient population did not receive formal psychotherapy, but significant care disparities were present among racial and ethnic minorities.

Read the full article.