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Illinois Program Helps Doctors Address Children's Mental Health

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Illinois children who have mental health and substance abuse problems will receive improved treatment through a new program, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich announced today. Illinois DocAssist is a new child and adolescent mental health and substance use consultation program that helps primary care providers to offer better treatment for young patients.

Due to a shortage of child psychiatrists, many children who have special mental healthcare needs or who are battling substance abuse problems receive treatment not from psychiatrists but from pediatricians and family doctors. Through Illinois DocAssist, those providers will have access to consultations, the latest in educational tools, trainings and other resources to help them best meet their young patients’ needs.

“For children who are dealing with psychiatric disorders or substance abuse problems, getting help is not always as easy as visiting a psychiatrist,” said Governor Blagojevich. “Most children receive treatment for these problems from their regular family doctors. Through Illinois DocAssist, those doctors can get the support they need to better diagnose and treat substance abuse and mental illness in their youngest patients.”

The program is part of a joint venture between the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services (HFS) and the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS). The agencies are teaming up with the Illinois Children’s Mental Health Partnership and the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Department of Psychiatry to implement Illinois DocAssist.

The program will improve the screening, diagnosis and treatment for psychiatric and substance use disorders in children in primary care settings. The goal of Illinois DocAssist is to make screening for mental health and substance use disorders a part of routine medical care.

“This program represents a major step forward in helping to integrate primary medical care and mental health and substance use care,” said HFS Director Barry S. Maram. “Primary care doctors often see children with mental health and substance use problems during office visits, and it is important that they are able to consult with specialists on how to best treat those problems. Now they can call Illinois DocAssist for help.”

Illinois DocAssist will help doctors improve the delivery and coordination of mental health and substance use care by providing access to:

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* Consultations that will guide providers through assessing mental illness and substance abuse;

* Medication management strategies;

* Office-based training workshops that demonstrate the latest disease screening tools;

* Information about new techniques to help them decide when a child should be treated or referred to a specialist;

* Trainings for providers and clinic staff on how to make mental health and substance abuse assessments part of regular exam routines; and

* Referral services to identify local community options for young patients who cannot be treated in a primary care setting.

“It’s important that the state’s mental health authority ensure that no matter where services are received, they are of the highest caliber,” said IDHS Secretary Carol L. Adams, Ph.D. “This collaboration reaches out beyond traditional mental health providers to address an unmet need. Significant numbers of children receiving care in primary care offices can be impacted.”

In an effort to make sure that Illinois DocAssist becomes a well-known and regularly used tool by medical professionals, several groups will work together to spread the word about the program, including HFS, the University of Illinois at Chicago and several other organizations, including the Illinois Psychiatric Society, the Illinois Council of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the Illinois Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Illinois Academy of Family Physicians.

“Through this service, pediatricians will have access to resources to help them provide the best care possible to their patients and families struggling with mental health issues,” said Irwin Benuck, MD, PhD, President of the Illinois Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.



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