Evolution of Child Mental Health Services in Primary Care

  • Kelly J. Kelleher
    Address correspondence to Kelly J. Kelleher, MD, MPH, Center for Innovation in Pediatric Practice, The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital, 700 Children's Drive, Columbus, Ohio 43205.
    Department of Pediatrics, College of Medicine, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio (Dr Kelleher and Dr Stevens); and Public Health and Psychiatry, College of Public Health, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio (Dr Kelleher)
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  • Jack Stevens
    Department of Pediatrics, College of Medicine, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio (Dr Kelleher and Dr Stevens); and Public Health and Psychiatry, College of Public Health, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio (Dr Kelleher)
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      Although the importance of mental health assessment and treatment in primary care is increasingly recognized, the research that underlies current practices largely stems from a considerable body of non–mental health primary care studies. Our purpose was to describe trends in research over the past 2 decades and to suggest further key items for the research agenda.


      We reviewed the literature broadly on health services research in pediatrics, especially studies of changes in primary care practice, and examined recent articles in primary care mental health services.


      The evolution of primary care mental health services for children has been slow, but the focus of research has changed with the development of clinical improvements. Proposals to deliver more effective services have evolved over the past 40 years in a series of approaches that paralleled initiatives in the broader fields of medicine and pediatrics. Current trends in electronic technology, practice consolidation and coordination, and personalized medicine are likely to increase the pace of change in mental health services for primary care.


      The evolution of pediatric mental health services in primary care suggests a continuing expansion from a focus initially on provider behavior and quality to a growing attention to patient and systems’ behavior over time and within communities.

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