As the public grapples with uncertainty and loss during the pandemic, UW Medicine has expanded a statewide psychiatric consultation service to 24/7 for healthcare providers caring for adults with behavioral health problems.
The consult line, funded by the state, launched a year ago with staffing five days a week but will now be staffed 24 hours, seven days a week.
Jürgen Unützer, chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Washington School of Medicine, said he is unaware of any other such service nationwide.
The consultation service is expanding as more people are seeking help.
“We are seeing increased stress in individuals with pre-existing mental-health or substance-use disorders, who may be socially isolated and have reduced access to their usual treatment programs or support systems,” he said.
Unützer said providers are also seeing mental health and substance use problems as individuals experience stress, anxiety, and grief as a result of the pandemic.
“We are expecting a historic wave of mental health problems,” he said.
Since its launch, the Psychiatry Consultation Line has received calls from providers in 25 of 39 counties in the state. The majority of calls have been from primary care clinics, but providers from all types of facilities, including emergency departments, substance-use treatment programs, and correctional facilities are eligible to call.
Phone calls are answered by a patient navigator, who spends approximately three minutes to gather information and then transfers the call to one of 35 consulting psychiatrists with UW Medicine. The consult typically lasts 15-20 minutes and the caller receives a written summary of recommendations. The Psychiatry Consultation Line also includes addiction specialists and geriatric specialists.
Data from an annual provider satisfaction survey show that 100% of callers would use the line again and recommend the line to colleagues.
“I had one primary care provider tell me it’s nice to have someone who has my back,” said Mollie Forrester, a social worker who runs the line.
Providers seeking consult for patients under age 18 or pregnant or postpartum patients can call the Psychiatric Consultation Line and then be referred to separate lines or call the lines directly:
Published by the UW Medicine newsroom: