Improving access to mental health services in a psychiatrist shortage

Reviewed by:
July 28, 2021

Taking care of one's physical and mental health has become more critical than ever. Together, a reduced stigma associated with seeking mental health services and an increase in mental health needs and demands triggered by the pandemic has highlighted a serious problem: the United States is experiencing a psychiatrist shortage. To this point, in a given year, 57% of adults with a mental illness do not receive any form of care.

57% of adults with a mental illness are not receiving care

Examining the psychiatrist shortage 

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there are currently about 45,580 psychiatrists in the country. To meet the current demand for psychiatric mental health services, this number would need to increase by about 6,398 psychiatrists. Projections indicate that by 2025, this could rise to a shortage of 15,000 psychiatrists! In addition, about 60% of active psychiatrists are age 55 or over and rapidly approaching retirement, further complicating the issue. This shortage has had negative impacts throughout the U.S., with psychiatrists finding it challenging to meet the growing demand for services and many people struggling to obtain psychiatric care. 

Soaring demand for mental health services

The psychiatrist shortage has been growing for some time, but the pandemic has brought this issue to light. Mental health became a common topic of conversation as individuals struggled to cope with the isolation brought on during lockdowns across the country. Even as restrictions have been lifted, many individuals are still working through feelings triggered by the pandemic. With increased societal acceptance around seeking mental health care and the benefits becoming more and more apparent, the demand for care quickly exceeded the supply of psychiatrists. This significant gap has resulted in long wait times for patients in dire need of care and psychiatrists struggling to keep up with this climb in demand. 

Factors contributing to the shortage

The problem for patients

Despite the number of people needing psychiatric care, various factors can make accessing it impossible, from a shortage of psychiatrists who accept insurance to the inaccessibility of care in rural areas. 

  • Lack of physical access to care 

Individuals seeking care in rural or underserved communities are likely to find very few providers if any. Psychiatrists are distributed unequally across the U.S., highlighted by the fact that 37% of the U.S. population lives in rural or partially rural areas experiencing shortages of mental health providers. That means a staggering 122 million Americans are without access to mental health care. While an increase in telemedicine services has expanded access to mental health care, treatment for some (typically, more severe) mental health issues must be conducted in person. 

  • Lack of affordable, in-network providers

Many patients face a lack of access to quality care options because mental health care providers are less likely to accept insurance at all. A 2014 study found that around 89% of providers in the healthcare industry accept insurance, while only about 55% of psychiatrists take insurance. This lack of in-network care can create a significant barrier for individuals seeking mental health treatment. While many Americans are left unable to afford any mental health care, those who can afford it are four-to-six times more likely to pay out-of-pocket for mental health care than they are for physical health care. The gap in insurance coverage and affordability has significantly contributed to the decreased accessibility of mental health care in 2021.

The problem for psychiatrists

While patients feel plenty of consequences from this shortage, psychiatrists are also negatively impacted in many ways.

  • Demanding schedules and burnout

With fewer physicians available, psychiatrists are dealing with more demanding schedules and shorter appointments that ultimately affect the quality of care they can provide. Busier schedules can often lead to physician burnout as they struggle to manage their time with an excessive amount of patients. A new stigma surrounding the profession, including this burnout and inability to provide high-quality care, can deter new physicians from pursuing a career in psychiatry. 

  • Lower compensation models and less coverage for psychiatrists

Like any other doctor, becoming a psychiatrist requires years of education and certification; however, this specialty is compensated at a lower rate than other medical professionals—even if they are treating the same condition. For example, the percentage of reimbursements that insurance companies provided to mental health professionals in 2015 was 83 cents for every $1 they gave to primary care physicians. The inequities created by this system have the potential to discourage mental health providers from accepting insurance. This also directly affects how insurance companies assess which types of care are considered “out-of-network,” which means that patients will likely have to pay higher rates since their insurance doesn’t cover their care. For example, in a study done in 2015, researchers found that 31.6% of outpatient facility behavioral health care was considered out-of-network, while only 5.5% of outpatient facility medical/surgical care was accessed out-of-network. It’s critical for practices to partner with insurance companies to help minimize this gap, make mental health care affordable, and ensure that physicians are properly compensated for their work. 

  • Lack of technological innovation

Psychiatrists are also disadvantaged by the lack of innovation in their field. While telehealth appointments have increased since the start of the pandemic, there are still significant strides that need to be made to provide psychiatrists with the tools they need to improve clinical outcomes. For example, roughly 60% of psychiatrists don’t use a certified electronic health record system, and 40% don’t use digital records at all. Customized software and integrations would allow psychiatrists to gain deeper insights into their patient population and the progress of treatment. By still using traditional note-taking techniques rather than more innovative methods, they may miss out on data points that would allow them to achieve greater clinical outcomes. 

This shortage of physicians and existing limitations in the psychiatric field creates a concerning outlook for the future quality and accessibility of psychiatric care in the United States. There is not just one solution; we must address many facets to find a long-term resolution to this problem. 

Doing our part: How Talkiatry works to solve the problem

At Talkiatry, we’re working to do our fair share of the work to eliminate the psychiatrist shortage and increase access to mental health services. However, we believe in building a responsible healthcare company and that means doing things the right way. We believe in enabling and empowering our psychiatrists to regularly meet with their patients to choose the best treatment modality, visit duration, visit frequency, and medication formulary for their unique needs. We don't impose restrictions, we provide tools.

What makes us appealing for psychiatrists

As a practice built by psychiatrists for psychiatrists, we know firsthand the unique challenges facing individuals in this profession. Our support staff removes administrative burdens of billing, insurance, and appointment scheduling, enabling psychiatrists to spend their time focusing on patient care. Talkiatry psychiatrists enjoy control over their hours and have the freedom to tailor their schedules to create their ideal work-life balance. With much-needed custom technology solutions and electronic health records, Talkiatry psychiatrists can track patient populations and progress in ways that were previously impossible. We also empower our team to select and treat the conditions and populations they enjoy treating. Finally, our psychiatrists earn higher than average compensation with robust benefits models, as they deserve. 

Talkiatry psychiatrist benefits

Improving access to mental health services

Talkiatry aims to increase affordable, accessible psychiatric care by partnering with every major insurance provider in the country. You will find that all Talkiatry psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, and psychotherapists are covered in-network with these insurance companies. This level of accessibility is uncommon, and with the help of our insurance partners, we hope to set a new precedent for mental health practices to follow. 

In taking care of our psychiatrists with these benefits and more, we are furthering the practice of psychiatry. By increasing clinical outcomes, we’ll pave the way for more accessible and affordable mental health care for people throughout the nation.

Do we sound like a good fit for you?

We’re solving America’s mental health crisis, one psychiatrist at a time. Check out our website to learn more about all of the benefits Talkiatry has to offer and our open positions.

Talkiatry is a mental health practice, and our clinicians review everything we write. However, articles are never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you think you may need mental health help, talk to a psychiatrist. If you or someone you know may be in danger, call 911 or the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 right away.

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