Closing gaps in care: The Mental Health Professionals Network

Amanda Lyons

19/11/2018 1:59:08 PM

Providing care for mental health issues can be challenging and complex, but the MHPN is designed to help by connecting GPs and other health professionals.

The Mental Health Professionals Network is designed to connect health professionals across all disciplines in the discussion and treatment of mental health.
The Mental Health Professionals Network is designed to connect health professionals across all disciplines in the discussion and treatment of mental health.

Not only are presentations for mental health concerns common in general practice, they can also be particularly complex, requiring integration between GPs and other healthcare professionals, which can be difficult to achieve in what is often a fragmented system.
But GPs can find assistance in the Mental Health Professionals’ Network (MHPN), which is specifically designed to help close some of these gaps in mental health care.
‘We are a unique initiative set up to promote interdisciplinary practise in community mental health,’ Chris Gibbs, Chief Executive of the MHPN, told newsGP.
‘We’re a national initiative with two arms. One is that we support local interdisciplinary practitioner’s networks in communities across Australia. The second is that we support and provide online interdisciplinary practice networks.
‘We provide those to all of the core professions … but we recognise that most people begin their journey in mental health with GPs, so they’re a core part of how it all works.’
Mr Gibbs is pleased with the participation MHPN has built up in its 10 years of operation.
‘Last year we had nearly 11,000 practitioners participate in about 360 networks in communities across Australia,’ he said.
‘There would have been an attendance of about nearly 800 GPs in those networks.’

MHPN Chief Executive Chris Gibbs said that ‘most people begin their journey in mental health with GPs, so they’re a core part of how it all works.’

Dr Jan Orman, a GP with a special interest in mental health care, is one of the GPs who has been participating in the MHPN network system.
‘[The MHPN] is designed to help break down silos in mental health care and help increase communication between health professionals,’ she told newsGP.
‘Those silos have created many misunderstandings between professionals, both in the care of patients and in their general attitude towards each other. The networks give the opportunity to reduce that misunderstanding, as well as to find people who you have a like-minded approach with in the care of patients.’
Dr Orman was particularly interested in creating a local network for health professionals who specialise in eating disorders. She found that starting and running her group was made easier by the financial and administrative support provided by the MHPN.
Dr Orman’s group has proved useful to its members in a number of ways.
‘It’s always very difficult as a GP, knowing which allied mental health professionals are interested in which areas of mental health,’ she said. ‘And in [the case of] conditions like eating disorders, you really need to engage other professionals who have a particular interest and skill in the area.
‘It’s also helpful getting to know the people you’re referring to, to make sure you get a good fit early between the patient and the mental health professional you’re referring to. Nothing is quite as useful as knowing the people you are referring to face-to-face.’
Dr Orman also believes health professionals can learn a lot from exposure to each other’s disciplines and ways of learning.
‘Each professional group has a different fit of knowledge, and it’s really good to learn that from them directly,’ she said.
‘GPs can benefit by the extra knowledge that people like psychologists and social workers have of the mental health area. Allied mental health can also benefit by gaining an understanding of where GPs are coming from, because of their medical model training.’

Jan-Orman-Article-(1).jpgGP Dr Jan Orman has found participating in the MHPN to be extremely helpful and educational.
According to Mr Gibbs, MHPN research further confirms Dr Orman’s experience.
‘Our independent evaluations have shown that when mental health practitioners from different disciplines network on a regular basis, relationships strengthen and referral confidence and pathways improve,’ he said.
‘There’s no doubt that mental health is now a significant part of general practice business, and the opportunity that our networks provide is the ability to connect up with other practitioners in the community so GPs can refer to people who have expertise in responding to the particular issue at hand.’
In addition to its networking services, the MHPN also provides education for health professionals, primarily via webinars that allow access at a place and time that best suits practitioners.
‘The webinars are generally case-based, and we try to present a 21st century response to time-poor practitioners,’ Mr Gibbs said.
‘The topics are wide-ranging – trauma-based, depression, anxiety, a whole range. And we always have a GP as part of the panel, because the GP is key in terms of the referral process.’
Webinars are free to access and also eligible for Quality Improvement and Continuing Professional Development (QI&CPD) points. Mr Gibbs feels participant numbers speak to the demand for this education.
‘Last year we ran 18 webinars and we had 21,000 participants, and I think a further 37,000 downloaded the podcast from the webinars,’ he said.
‘We also had 11,000 practitioners participate [in the networks] last year, and I think this means we are addressing a very real appetite out there for information about how disciplines can work together around particular subject matter.’
The networks can also be helpful in less quantifiable ways.
‘Some friendships have developed from the MHPN group, as well as the professional association that people have with each other,’ Dr Orman said.
Mr Gibbs is extremely pleased with what the MHPN has achieved over the past decade, and is looking forward to an even stronger future.
‘I don’t think anybody had any idea where this would go at the beginning,’ he said.
‘It’s been a very good idea, it has established good roots and is now an active participant in trying to support practitioners working in community mental health.’

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