Saturday, May 08, 2010

Why Am I Asking All These Questions?



I'm reading a book where the shrinky author starts off with a revelation: it's not the best care to see patients for a 50 minute evaluation, start a medication, have them come back in a month for a 15 minute med check, and refer them to a social worker for psychotherapy. It does sound like a good way to make a lot of money. If you aren't totally exhausted, overwhelmed with the phone calls and paperwork you must have seeing that huge a case load, and are someone who is gratified from this type of work, then it's cool by me. It's not what I want to do.

The author trained at about the same time as I did, and trained at an institution with a biological orientation, like the one I trained out. He talks about this kind of care as though it's standard and the usual and expected. I've never heard this as standard, and in my private practice, I see new patients for 2 hours, and want people to come back weekly for 50 minute sessions until -- they are no longer symptomatic, or they've gotten what they want out of the treatment. Some people come into treatment without symptom---their old shrink moved or died, and they just want a script and someone to rely on if they get sick. I don't insist they come every week, but I'll ask them to come more frequently than they are used to coming for a little while until I feel like I know them. Some people can't afford weekly psychotherapy or find it to be a burden, and I often respect their wishes to come less frequently, unless their illness is destroying their ability to function, in which case I think they need to come weekly. I don't see anyone more than once a week (unless there is an emergency) routinely, and I never seem to have patients who come requesting twice weekly therapy sessions. Almost everyone comes for the full 50 minute session. A few people who just aren't talkers come for half hour sessions.

I've worked in a number of community mental health centers. I know some clinics have huge caseloads and a full-time doc may have 500-1000 patients. I've never worked anywhere like this. Most of the clinics I've worked in have left the frequency of visits up to the doc, though certainly there is a clinic tone. In one clinic I worked in, most patients saw the doc once a month, where I work now, it's once every three months for patients who are stable. The therapist attends those sessions, and they may be quite brief....many of the patients don't seem to want to talk, and the paperwork burden imposed by the regulatory agencies are very heavy. Still, the standard at all the clinics I've worked in is 2 patients an hour. The no show rate is high, and sometimes a 3rd patient may be squeezed into the schedule if there is a scheduling problem.
My record is 15 patients in one day, and this was while I was volunteering at a clinic in Louisiana after Katrina, and the clinic had no full time doctors and a huge demand. It was 15 patients I'd never seen before, some were quite troubled, and it was a tiring day for me. So my hat goes off to those docs who see 4-6 patients an hour. I couldn't do it.

So what is the standard? I thought I'd ask. Of our readers, it looks like many see their psychiatrists weekly and many see them for 50 minute sessions. Just thought I'd ask. Thank you for taking my surveys and please do add your comments.