How Can Patients Access the Behavioral Health Consultant?

Soldier in Fatigues speaking to a woman in a doctor's office
U.S. Navy photo
By Anne C. Dobmeyer, Ph.D., ABPP
May 11, 2020

“Many of my primary care patients would benefit from seeing our clinic’s behavioral health consultant (BHC). What’s the best way for my patients to access the BHC?

Primary care managers (PCMs) in the Military Health System (MHS) may readily recognize that a patient would benefit by the inclusion of the BHC in their care plan. BHCs, psychologists and social workers integrated into primary care assist the team in helping patients to improve their health, increase adherence to treatment plans, and manage behavioral health concerns or conditions. PCMs may wonder, however, how to best link their patient to the BHC. Is a formal referral required? Should the patient call a central appointing line for an appointment?

The preferred method of linking a patient with the BHC is through a same-day warm handoff, even for non-urgent, routine concerns. Although there are various ways to conduct an efficient warm handoff, a common approach is for the PCM’s nurse or technician to alert the BHC to the PCM’s request for a warm handoff. The BHC pauses what they are doing and joins the PCM in the exam room for an introduction to the patient. The BHC and patient then meet for an initial visit (10 to 30 minutes, depending on the availability of both individuals). This visit may occur immediately or after a brief delay if the BHC needs to first finish up with another patient.

Warm handoffs are the preferred way to connect patients to the BHC, because they provide patients with the convenience of a same-day visit, decrease the risk of a cancelled or missed visit, and improve communication and team-based care. If a warm handoff is not possible (e.g., a patient cannot stay or the BHC is away from the clinic), a member of the team should book the patient a future BHC appointment prior to the patient’s departure. Finally, some patients schedule their initial BHC visit by calling for an appointment or booking online (where available). These methods are more often used by patients who self-refer to the BHC. Regardless of the method used, formal referrals are never needed for a patient to see the BHC.

Learn more about primary care behavioral health and the role of BHCs on the Psychological Health Center of Excellence website.

Capt. Dobmeyer is a U.S. Public Health Service psychologist in the Primary Care Behavioral Health branch at the Psychological Health Center of Excellence. She specializes in clinical health psychology and the integration of behavioral health services into primary care clinics within the Department of Defense.

The views expressed in Clinician's Corner blogs are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Psychological Health Center of Excellence or Department of Defense.

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