Published on January 19th, 2016 | from CAMH
Primary Care – A Prescription for Change
By Roslyn Shields, CAMH Senior Policy Analyst
Primary care providers are the backbone of our healthcare system. Every day across Ontario, general practitioners, family doctors and nurse practitioners – supported by interdisciplinary teams – prevent, identify and treat a wide range of ailments.
For most of us, accessing primary care services is not problematic. While we may have to wait longer for an appointment than what we would like, when do see our providers, we receive the high-quality healthcare that we need.
People with mental health problems and illnesses, on the other hand, often have difficulty accessing high-quality primary care. Some do not have family doctor. Others aren’t able to keep appointments. Some have their mental illnesses missed or misdiagnosed. Others aren’t given routine preventative care for physical illnesses.
There are many potential reasons why people with mental health problems and illnesses have difficulty accessing high-quality primary care. Symptoms of mental illness may make it difficult to attend appointments in busy waiting rooms. Poverty and unstable housing can make it challenging to follow-through on care plans. Stigma and discrimination, as well as a lack of information, education and support, may mean that primary care providers don’t know the correct diagnosis or treatment. Operating in isolation without the support of allied health professionals can mean that primary care providers limit access to wraparound, seamless care. And the way that primary care doctors are compensated for their services may also impact access to care.
When people with mental health problems and illnesses don’t have access to high-quality primary care their overall health and quality of life suffers. Sometimes the results are deadly.
That is why CAMH is releasing our Mental Health and Primary Care Policy Framework today. This Framework uses a social justice lens to give a broad overview of the factors that contribute to primary care access in Ontario and provides a model for the development and implementation of primary care policies that most effectively address the needs of people with mental health problems and illnesses. We focus on how Ontario can create equitable primary care that prioritizes mental health, how to increase primary care providers’ knowledge and confidence to treat people with mental health problems and illnesses – particularly in collaborative and integrated environments, and how to ensure accountability and best practices in primary healthcare.
Across Ontario, there are many existing initiatives and ongoing discussions that seek to bring primary care and mental health care together. The goal of CAMH’s Mental Health and Primary Care Policy Framework is to continue and contribute to this dialogue. Together, we can create barrier-free access to high-quality primary care for all Ontarians.