Care Transformation Center Blog

Phone a friend: The PCP's help line for behavioral health expertise

Primary care providers are typically the first to identify a patient’s need for behavioral health services. In fact, nearly 60% of adults with a major depressive episode were initially treated by their primary care physician.

That said, PCPs often lack the time and training to fully manage mental health and substance abuse. Discomfort around behavioral health among primary care providers contributes to reduced screening, diminished patient access to treatment, and an increase in avoidable, high-cost inpatient psychiatric services.

In the past, we’ve discussed how the integrated model offers embedded specialist support for primary care teams, but not all practices are ready to invest in staffing for integration. Given the obstacles around financial sustainability for integrated behavioral health programming, many provider organizations are looking for a low-cost, reliable way to get primary care support and guidance from behavioral health specialists.

Treating Provider for Adults with a Major Depressive Episode

JPS Health Network's virtual clinical guidance service

In August 2013, JPS Health Network launched Virtual Behavioral Health Clinical Guidance, a free service that provides behavioral health consultations and online educational resources to primary care providers in the region who enroll.

As one of the health system’s projects in the Texas Healthcare Transformation and Quality Improvement Program 1115, this telementoring service offers 24/7 on-demand, telephonic behavioral health consults with psychiatric specialists. The service is available across nine counties in the Dallas-Fort Worth region.

Behavioral Health Requests in Virtual Consultations

Primary care providers can request behavioral health guidance within 30 minutes via phone, email, or website submission. A social worker or nurse answers the phone and triages requests as needed. Approximately 50% of calls are effectively managed by the nurse or social worker, and a contracted, on-call psychiatrist helps manage the remaining requests. Additional program components include training resources and an online library of evidence-based educational materials.

To enroll in the program, local primary care providers first sign a service agreement outlining mutual goals, program offerings, and privacy standards. The original service agreement was developed in collaboration with JPS Health Network’s contracted physician group and has since expanded to include out-of-network providers. To date, the Virtual Behavioral Health Clinic Guidance has enrolled 350 primary care providers and fulfilled more than 1,800 consultations.

 JPS Health Network's Virtual Behavioral Health Clinical Guidance Agreement

Not a Population Health Advisor member? Email me at to get JPS's agreement.

Virtual consults boost provider satisfaction and EBP

Primary care providers using the Virtual Behavioral Health Clinic Guidance services report increased comfort and confidence treating behavioral health needs. Provider satisfaction with access to behavioral health expertise increased nearly nine-fold following the use of the service, and adherence to evidence-based protocols for psychiatric conditions similarly increased from 6% to 92%. The service has also prevented avoidable ED use among behavioral health patients.

PCP Satisfaction with Access to Behavioral Health Expertise

Visit the Virtual Behavioral Health Clinical Guidance website to read more about the Virtual Resource Center, access the research library, and connect with free webinars and presentations.

The Integrated Behavioral Health Implementation Toolkit

Get surveys, checklists, templates, and tools for addressing six critical components of an integrated behavioral health program.