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Physician assistants and the psychiatrist shortage.

J. Michael Smith's article "Physician assistants in psychiatry: Helping to meet America's mental health needs" (Commentary, CURRENT PSYCHIATRY. September 2019, p. 17-20,24) recommends the use of physician assistants (PAs) to alleviate the shortage of psychiatrists in the United States, but it fails to address the underlying issue. The use of both telepsychiatry as well as psychiatric PAs are inadequate attempts at solving the pressing matter of the psychiatrist shortage. Telepsychiatry was intended to provide care to underserved populations, but it has not succeeded. It is used more frequently in urban settings rather than in needier rural areas. Moreover, the use of PAs in psychiatry has also failed to solve the original problem. Psychiatrists are and should be the backbone of the practice of psychiatry, not PAs.

There needs to be a multifocal approach to incentivize medical students to choose psychiatry as a specialty. Several factors have discouraged medical students from going into psychiatry. The low reimbursement rates by insurance companies force psychiatrists to not accept insurances or to work for hospital or clinic organizations, where they become a part of the "medication management industry." This scenario was created by the pharmaceutical industry and often leaves psychotherapy to other types of clinicians. In the not-too-distant future, advances in both neuroscience and artificial intelligence technologies will further reduce the role of medically trained psychiatrists, and might lead to them being replaced by other emerging professions (eg, psychiatric PAs) that are concentrated in urban settings where they are most profitable.

What can possibly be left for the future of the medically trained psychiatrist if a PA can diagnose and treat psychiatric patients? Why would we need more psychiatrists?

Marco T. Carpio, MD

Psychiatrist, private practice

Lynbrook, New York

Disclosure: The author reports no financial relationships with any companies whose products are mentioned in this article, or with manufacturers of competing products.

The author responds

I appreciate Dr. Carpio's comments, and I agree that the shortage of psychiatrists will not be addressed solely by the addition of other types of clinicians, such as PAs and nurse practitioners. However, the use of well-trained health care providers such as PAs will go a long way towards helping patients receive timely and appropriate access to care. Unfortunately, no single plan or method will be adequate to solve the shortage of psychiatrists in the United States, but that does not negate the need for utilizing all available options to improve access to quality mental health care. Physician assistants are well-trained to support this endeavor.

J. Michael Smith, DHSc, MPAS, PA-C, CAQ-Psychiatry

Post-Graduate PA Mental Health Residency

Training Director

Physician Assistant, ACCESS Clinic, GMHC

Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center

Houston, Texas

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Title Annotation:Comments&Controversies
Author:Carpio, Marco T.
Publication:Current Psychiatry
Article Type:Letter to the editor
Date:Jan 1, 2020
Words:444
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