How CPAN empowers pediatricians to provide mental health care

A simple and comprehensive resource can help you care for patients with mental health problems

The number of children in the U.S. with depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions has been climbing for years, and shot up even faster during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, there has been an ongoing nationwide shortage of child psychiatrists. Pediatricians – often the first providers to see children with mental health problems – are doing their best to fill the widening gap.

In 2020, the Child Psychiatric Access Network (CPAN) launched to give crucial support to pediatricians and other primary care providers (PCPs) across Texas. It connects PCPs with mental health resources for patients and rapid access to consultations with psychiatrists and behavioral health clinicians. Children’s Health℠/UT Southwestern is leading CPAN and providing expert support to PCPs all over the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

CPAN has quickly become an invaluable resource for pediatricians, giving them the support to care for children with behavioral and mental health problems while also saving them time in their practice. Among the services that CPAN offers, many pediatricians rely on it for up-to-date referral lists of counselors, psychiatrists and other specialists that are tailored for each patient. And at any time while caring for a patient, PCPs can ask a pediatric psychiatrist through CPAN for advice, such as about the diagnosis and treatment plan.

“In primary care, my lane is very wide, but sometimes I do hear the rumble strips and I'm about to head for the ditch, and I need to call on a friend,” says Kelley Smith, M.D., Pediatrician at Children’s Health who relies on CPAN as part of her practice.

Learn how simple it is to use CPAN and the dramatic impact these services can have on patient care.

Rapid access to resources saves time in your practice

For Dr. Smith, a typical exchange with CPAN usually starts with a call she makes, or asks her nurse or medical assistant to make, to their phone line after seeing a patient who needs help. In a 5 to 10-minute conversation, one of the CPAN licensed clinicians gathers all the pertinent information, including the patient’s name, insurance, zip code and a brief description of their symptoms.

The same day or the next business day, Dr. Smith and her staff receive an email with a list of the resources she requested and pass them along to the patient’s family.

“CPAN knows about all the resources and does the legwork to find the right ones, such as providers who take the patient’s insurance and are located close to the family. I could search for all that, but it would take time from the other tasks that I need to do to help patients,” Dr. Smith says.

With CPAN, Dr. Smith calls a licensed clinician when she has a few minutes of downtime, like if she is waiting for a patient’s test results. (There is also an option to text for a CPAN licensed clinician to call back at a designated time.) As long as Dr. Smith makes the call during billable hours, she can bill for it just like she does for the patient exam or other consultations. 

Key takeaways

  • Get started with CPAN with a quick phone call or text message (a nurse or medical assistant can do this to save you more time)
  • CPAN saves you time by providing a reliable list of referrals customized for each patient
  • Time you spend with CPAN is billable

Mental health experts offer prompt support

By using CPAN, Ayesha Anwar, M.D., Pediatrician at Pediatric Center of Grand Prairie, has achieved a new comfort level in caring for patients with depression, anxiety and other issues.

In her first calls with a CPAN licensed clinician, Dr. Anwar asked for additional support, including a consultation with a psychiatrist. She then received a call from the psychiatrist, at a time she designated, and they spent 15 to 30 minutes talking about the patient and their treatment options.

Through these calls, Dr. Anwar quickly learned the signs of anxiety and depression – such as if a patient mentions they are not eating well – and now looks for them as part of exams. She also starts patients on treatments such as SSRIs and monitors their progress, which she never felt comfortable doing before CPAN.

“Now I usually reserve psychiatry referrals for patients who have suicidal ideation or signs of bipolar disorder or schizophrenia – conditions where I am still definitely out of my lane,” says Dr. Smith.

Key takeaways

  • Consult with child psychiatrists over the phone at a time that is convenient for your schedule
  • Get expert advice about diagnosis and treatment options
  • Learn about signs of anxiety and depression to watch for during patient exams

Ongoing advice for complicated cases

CPAN offers continued support when treatments don’t seem to be working. In one case, Dr. Anwar began seeing a teenage girl who had been hospitalized because of suicidal thoughts. Dr. Anwar consulted with a CPAN psychiatrist several times. Together, they tried increasing the patient’s medication dose and then tried a different medication. When the patient’s issues continued, the psychiatrist recommended that Dr. Anwar refer the patient to a specialist.

“They say, ‘I think you’ve done what you can do and now it’s time to refer the patient.’ It is very helpful,” she says.

Dawn Johnson, M.D., a Pediatrician and the Medical Director at Children’s Health who calls herself a CPAN “super user,” often turns to it for help caring for patients with autism and other neurodevelopmental differences. She has sought help for patients as young as 3 years old.

Many of Dr. Johnson’s patients with neurodevelopmental differences have poor sleep. CPAN taught her about the types of support to refer families to, such as for improving sleep hygiene, and helps her manage medications for children who continue to have poor sleep and other issues.

“Often, if I can help neurodevelopmentally diverse children sleep better, they show dramatic improvement in the acquisition of developmental milestones such as language, movement and learning,” Dr. Johnson says.

Key takeaways

  • Get ongoing support for patients who continue to have mental health issues
  • A psychiatrist will tell you when a patient is out of your scope and it’s time to refer
  • Get advice for patients as young as 3 years old

Learn about resources and therapies for patients with autism and other neurodevelopmental differences

How you can get started using CPAN

The first step to using CPAN is to enroll your practice by calling 1-888-901-CPAN (2726) or enroll online. Nearly 2,000 PCPs in the Dallas-Fort Worth area are already enrolled. The process is simple. Right after you enroll, a licensed clinician can send you resources for a patient and help you get a consultation with a psychiatrist.

Making CPAN part of your practice can be straightforward. It’s easy to tell everyone in your practice – the other pediatricians, nurses and assistants – about the resource during everyday conversations, as Dr. Smith did when she first enrolled. It’s even easier for clinics that use Epic to integrate CPAN into the workflow. The system allows PCPs to place an order for their staff to call CPAN and indicate what they should request. It’s similar to ordering a vaccine, Dr. Smith notes.

“What urges me to use CPAN is that kids and their families often have nowhere to go, and we often have the opportunity to prevent our patients from getting to the point of thinking about suicide,” Dr. Johnson says. “They put trust in us, and we have a relationship with them, so I think that puts us in a good position to be the ones to help,” she adds. 

Learn more about CPAN and start using it today >>

Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium logoChild Psychiatry Access Network logo

CPAN is funded and administered by the Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium (TCMHCC)

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