Research supports integrated pediatric behavioral health (BH), but evidence gaps remain in ensuring equitable care for children of all ages. In response, an interdisciplinary team codeveloped a stepped care model that expands BH services at 3 federally qualified health centers (FQHCs).
FQHCs reported monthly electronic medical record data regarding detection of BH issues, receipt of services, and psychotropic medications. Study staff reviewed charts of children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) before and after implementation.
Across 47 437 well-child visits, >80% included a complete BH screen, significantly higher than the state’s long-term average (67.5%; P < .001). Primary care providers identified >30% of children as having BH issues. Of these, 11.2% of children <5 years, 53.8% of 5–12 years, and 74.6% >12 years were referred for care. Children seen by BH staff on the day of referral (ie, “warm hand-off”) were more likely to complete an additional BH visit than children seen later (hazard ratio = 1.37; P < .0001). There was no change in the proportion of children prescribed psychotropic medications, but polypharmacy declined (from 9.5% to 5.7%; P < .001). After implementation, diagnostic rates for ADHD more than doubled compared with baseline, follow-up with a clinician within 30 days of diagnosis increased (62.9% before vs 78.3% after; P = .03) and prescriptions for psychotropic medication decreased (61.4% before vs 43.9% after; P = .03).
Adding to a growing literature, results demonstrate that integrated BH care can improve services for children of all ages in FQHCs that predominantly serve marginalized populations.