Mental health disorders contribute significantly to the global burden of disease and lead to extensive strain on health systems. The integration of mental health workers into primary care has been proposed as one possible solution, but evidence of clinical and cost effectiveness of this approach is unclear. In a paper published in the journal BMJ Open, we reviewed the clinical and cost effectiveness of mental health workers colocated within primary care practices.
Fifteen studies from four countries were included. Mental health worker integration was associated with mental health benefits to varied populations, including minority groups and those with comorbid chronic diseases. The interventions were correlated with high patient satisfaction and increases in specialist mental health referrals among minority populations. However, there was insufficient evidence to suggest clinical outcomes were significantly different from usual general practitioner care.
We concluded that while there appear to be some benefits associated with mental health worker integration in primary care practices, we found insufficient evidence to conclude that an onsite primary care mental health worker is significantly more clinically or cost effective when compared with usual general practitioner care. There should therefore be an increased emphasis on generating new evidence from clinical trials to better understand the benefits and effectiveness of mental health workers colocated within primary care practices.