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Association News
Two APAs Find Common Ground on Many Patient-Care Issues
Psychiatric News
Volume 42 Number 8 page 6-6

Leaders of the two "APAs" came together in March to discuss plans for future collaboration on a number of mental health issues and to release a joint statement on mental health parity legislation.

"Despite our differences on some basic issues, there are quite a few areas in which we share common interests and ideas related to patient care," APA President Pedro Ruiz, M.D., told Psychiatric News." There are issues in the field of psychiatry that transcend our individual organizational priorities and boundaries."

Among these issues, he noted, are improving access to psychiatric care and parity for Americans with mental health problems. "In these key areas, it is important to join organizational forces in order to advance and/or secure benefits for our patients, especially the chronically mentally ill patients, as well as disadvantaged and disenfranchised patients," Ruiz said.

The American Psychological Association, headquartered in Washington, D.C., has more than 145,000 members.

"I'm delighted that the leadership of the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association have been discussing items of considerable interest to both associations," American Psychological Association President Sharon Stephens Brehm, Ph.D., told Psychiatric News. "These joint endeavors will help strengthen both associations and, most of all, will increase our overall effectiveness in providing mental health care to all Americans."

On March 5, a small group of leaders from both organizations met for lunch at a restaurant in Washington, D.C., to discuss areas for collaboration. Participants considered several goals they would like to achieve together, including improving mental health services for returning veterans, improving access to and quality of care for geriatric patients, and increasing access to mental health care for underserved populations.

Out of the meeting came a joint statement from the two organizations calling on Congress to pass mental health parity legislation. A joint press release on March 15 announced that "psychiatrists and psychologists are joining forces to call on Congress to pass a mental health parity bill that would end insurance discrimination against persons with mental health disorders."

According to meeting attendee Nada Stotland, M.D., M.P.H., APA vice president and incoming president-elect, everyone at the March 5 meeting" agreed strongly that there were many things upon which we could work collaboratively and that this collaboration would work to everyone's advantage, especially the public and our patients."

Stotland has been working closely with APA Board members and leaders from the American Psychological Association to discuss future topics and strategies for collaboration between the two organizations.

For instance, psychiatrists and psychologists representing each organization may lead programs at each of the organization's annual meeting. Other options include forming joint task forces to issue reports, recommendations, and policy statements, Stotland noted.

She acknowledged that there are some in APA who "feel as if we are treading on dangerous ground" by collaborating with the American Psychological Association because of the differences between the two organizations regarding prescriptive authority for psychologists and the patient safety issues it raises. Nonetheless, she said, "I think we can maintain an unchanged determination that psychologists should not prescribe medications and yet still work on other issues together," adding that psychiatrists should not let one area of disagreement impede "the tremendous power that results from working together."

One of the next issues that leaders may tackle jointly is expanding access to mental health care for geriatric patients, she said.

Frank Brown, M.D., head of APA's Council on Aging, told Psychiatric News that he believes that having APA and the psychological association work toward some of the same goals, especially regarding improving the mental health of geriatric patients, "shows a very consistent message to Congress. In the long run, this will be helpful to our patients."

He pointed out that psychologists have expertise in neuropsychological testing and certain areas of research, as well as information about interactions with Medicare involving reimbursement that may be informative for psychiatrists.

"Anytime there is an opportunity for APA to collaborate with other organizations, we should take advantage of it," Brown remarked.

One of the participants in the March meeting, Dauda Griffin, M.D., chair of the APA/SAMHSA and APA/AstraZeneca Minority Fellowships Program and a first-year child and adolescent psychiatry fellow at Emory University, remarked that it was a "privilege and an honor" to attend.

Although he said going into the meeting that he "did not know what to expect, as there are clear differences between the groups," Griffin noted that "our similarities in striving to provide the best care for patients suffering with mental illness proved strong enough to make the meeting a success."

He added that he hopes that the fields of psychiatry and psychology" can come together in a way that we never have before to provide the best possible care for our patients and to elevate our two fields in the public domain." ▪

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