Utilization and Economic Contribution of Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners in Public Behavioral Health Services

Am J Prev Med. 2018 Jun;54(6 Suppl 3):S243-S249. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2018.01.045.


Introduction: Expanded insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act and parity in behavioral health coverage have increased demand for services. Yet there is a persistent shortage in the behavioral health workforce. Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners (PMHNPs) may be part of the solution to shortages but are not yet fully utilized. The purpose of this study was to describe how PMHNPs are utilized, identify barriers to full utilization, and assess PMHNPs' economic contribution in public behavioral health systems.

Methods: This study used a mixed methods approach, selecting counties for use of PMHNPs, geography, population size, rural/urban, and availability of financial data. The authors conducted 1- to 2-day site visits in 2014-2015 including semi-structured interviews with management and clinical leaders and collected PMHNP staffing and billing data. Thematic analysis of interview data was conducted and aggregate staffing and billing data were analyzed to determine net PMHNP financial contribution.

Results: The primary billed service for PMHNPs is medication management. Barriers to full utilization included system-level barriers to hiring PMHNPs, lack of role-appropriate job descriptions, confusion related to scope of practice/supervision requirements, and challenges in recruitment and retention. Fiscal analysis showed a positive net contribution from PMHNP services.

Conclusions: PMHNPs can make a significant contribution to behavioral healthcare delivery, particularly in public mental health settings, yet greater understanding of their role and addressing barriers to practice is needed.

Supplement information: This article is part of a supplement entitled The Behavioral Health Workforce: Planning, Practice, and Preparation, which is sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Delivery of Health Care / economics
  • Delivery of Health Care / organization & administration
  • Health Workforce / economics
  • Health Workforce / organization & administration*
  • Humans
  • Insurance Coverage / economics*
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Mental Health Services / economics
  • Mental Health Services / organization & administration*
  • Nurse Practitioners / economics
  • Nurse Practitioners / organization & administration*
  • Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act
  • Public Health / economics