Timely Referrals from Primary Care to Specialty Mental Health, and Back

Research Paper Title

Provider perspectives on a clinical demonstration project to transition patients with stable mental health conditions to primary care.


Research to improve access to mental healthcare often focuses on increasing timely referrals from primary care (PC) to specialty mental health (SMH).

However, timely and appropriate transitions back to PC are indispensable for increasing access to SMH for new patients.


The researchers developed and implemented a formalised process to identify patients eligible for transition from SMH to PC.

The FLOW intervention was piloted at a Veterans Health Administration community-based outpatient clinic. Qualitatively examine provider perspectives regarding patient transitions at initiation and termination of the FLOW project.

Sixteen mental health providers and three PC staff completed qualitative interviews about the benefits and drawbacks of FLOW at initiation. Ten mental health providers and one PC staff completed interviews at 12-month follow-up. Primary benefits anticipated at initiation were that FLOW would increase access to SMH, provide acknowledgement of veterans’ recovery, and differentiate between higher and lower intensity mental health services.


SMH providers reported additional perceived benefits at 12-month follow-up, including:

  • Decreased stress over their caseloads; and
  • Increased ability to deliver efficient, effective treatment.

Anticipated drawbacks at initiation were that veterans would get inconsistent care, PC could not offer the same level of care as SMH, and veterans might view transition as a rejection by their SMH provider.

Perceived drawbacks were similar at 12-month follow-up, but there was less frequent endorsement.


Findings highlight need for sustained and frequent provider education regarding:

  1. The appropriate characteristics of individuals eligible for transition; and
  2. Established procedures to ensure care coordination during and after transition.


Fletcher, T.L., Johnson, A.L., Kim, B., Yusuf, Z., Benzer, J. & Smith, T. (2019) Provider perspectives on a clinical demonstration project to transition patients with stable mental health conditions to primary care. Translational Behavioral Medicine. pii: ibz172. doi: 10.1093/tbm/ibz172. [Epub ahead of print].

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.