Five-Year Outcomes of Behavioral Health Integration in Pediatric Primary Care

Pediatrics. 2019 Jul;144(1):e20183243. doi: 10.1542/peds.2018-3243. Epub 2019 Jun 11.


Background and objectives: In the context of protracted shortages of pediatric behavioral health (BH) specialists, BH integration in pediatric primary care can increase access to BH services. The objectives of this study were to assess the structure and process of pediatric BH integration and outcomes in patient experience (access and quality), cost, and provider satisfaction.

Methods: In 2013, we launched a multicomponent, transdiagnostic integrated BH model (Behavioral Health Integration Program [BHIP]) in a large pediatric primary care network in Massachusetts. Study participants comprised the first 13 practices to enroll in BHIP (Phase-1). Phase-1 practices are distributed across Greater Boston, with ∼105 primary care practitioners serving ∼114 000 patients. Intervention components comprised in-depth BH education, on-demand psychiatric consultation, operational support for integrated practice transformation, and on-site clinical BH service.

Results: Over 5 years, BHIP was associated with increased practice-level BH integration (P < .001), psychotherapy (P < .001), and medical (P = .04) BH visits and guideline-congruent medication prescriptions for anxiety and depression (P = .05) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (P = .05). Total ambulatory BH spending increased by 8% in constant dollars over 5 years, mainly attributable to task-shifting from specialty to primary care. Although an initial decline in emergency BH visits from BHIP practices was not sustained, total emergency BH spending decreased by 19%. BHIP providers reported high BH self-efficacy and professional satisfaction from BHIP participation.

Conclusions: Findings from this study suggest that integrating BH in the pediatric setting can increase access to quality BH services while engendering provider confidence and satisfaction and averting substantial increases in cost.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Child
  • Child Behavior Disorders / diagnosis
  • Child Behavior Disorders / therapy
  • Child Health Services / organization & administration*
  • Education, Medical, Continuing
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Humans
  • Massachusetts
  • Mental Health Services / organization & administration*
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Primary Health Care / organization & administration*
  • Program Evaluation
  • Psychotherapy
  • Referral and Consultation