Survey: 8 in 10 US doctors feel unprepared to treat mentally ill

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More than eight in 10 family doctors in the U.S. say they are not adequately prepared to care for severely mentally ill patients, according to a survey released Monday by the Commonwealth Fund.

Just 16 percent of U.S. doctors said their offices had the capacity to care for those with serious mental illnesses, the lowest of any other developed country besides Sweden, according to the annual international study.

Diagnosing and treating mental illnesses has come increasingly into focus this year as the number of mass shootings committed by mentally unstable individuals continues to rise. GOP leaders in Congress have repeatedly pointed to mental health reform as their best response to the nation's epidemic of shootings.

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The survey, published in the journal Health Affairs, affirmed that the U.S consistently ranked among the lowest on health rankings overall, with doctors particularly pessimistic about their ability to care for patients with chronic illnesses.  

“It’s concerning that one in four U.S. primary care doctors don’t think their practices are prepared for the sickest patients, especially when we have so many Americans with multiple chronic illnesses who may get sicker as they age,” said Robin Osborn, lead author of the study and health policy official at the Commonwealth Fund.

Only 16 percent of U.S. doctors said the healthcare system works well, compared to 67 percent of doctors in Norway and 57 percent of those in New Zealand. The U.S. rankings were the lowest of all nine countries.

One-quarter of U.S. doctors said they had seen meaningful changes in the quality of patient care the last three years — a period that, in the U.S., covers the rollout of the most significant healthcare reform law in decades.   

The survey also underscored the challenges of coordinating care among doctors and hospital staffs.

About half of U.S. primary care doctors said they routinely communicated with home care providers or social service providers — among the lowest of any other nation.

Only one-third of doctors said they were always notified when their patient was discharged from the hospital or when a patient is seen in the emergency department.