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Physicians less comfortable discussing mental health than weight

February 3, 2017
by Tom Valentino, Senior Editor
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Physicians are more uncomfortable discussing patients’ mental health than their weight, according to a recent study released by SERMO, a global social network for doctors with more than 600,000 members.

Of more than 3,800 physicians polled in 27 countries, 92% of respondents said they were comfortable discussing weight concerns. Separately, just 73% of 879 respondents said they felt comfortable discussing adult patients’ mental health.

Linda Girgis, MD, a family physician practicing in South River, N.J., and a member of the SERMO medical advisory board, tells Behavioral Healthcare Executive, that the knowledge that patients have limited access to providers who specialize in behavioral healthcare can make mental health a difficult subject to broach.

“It’s a big problem, especially in the area where I practice,” Girgis says. “It’s very hard to get patients in to see a specialist, especially with certain types of insurance. Sometimes I have patients I feel really need to get in, but it can be more than six months until there’s an appointment available, so access is a big problem as well.

“If I have a patient who has a mental health problem such as depression or anxiety, I try to manage the best I can until they get in to see a specialist, but that’s still not always the best treatment for the patient. We try to do our best, but they’re not always getting the optimal care they deserve,“ she adds.

Also among SERMO’s findings in its recent polls: 23% of 3,227 respondents surveyed said they believe patients are most truthful discussing their tobacco use, compared to 13% for alcohol use and 10% for drug use.