The authors sought to assess the availability of outpatient mental health care through pediatrician and child psychiatrist offices in the United States and to characterize differences in appointment availability by location, provider type, and insurance across five cities. To do so, the authors posed as parents of a 12-year-old child with depression, gave a predetermined insurance type, and asked to make the first available appointment with the specified provider. They called the offices of 601 individual pediatricians and 312 child psychiatrists located in five U.S. cities and listed as in-network by Blue Cross Blue Shield, one of the largest private insurers in the United States. Appointments were obtained with 40% of the pediatricians and 17% of the child psychiatrists. The mean wait time for psychiatry appointments was 30 days longer than for pediatric appointments. Providers were less likely to have available appointments for children on Medicaid, which is public insurance for low-income people. The most common reason for being unable to make an appointment was that the listed phone number was incorrect. Pediatricians were twice as likely to see new patients and to see them sooner than child psychiatrists. Increasing the number of both types of providers may be necessary to increase access to mental health care for children.
Keywords: child psychiatry; insurance companies; obstacles to accessing mental health care; public mental health.