Parents’ Behavioral Health Expectations for Pediatricians


Parents respond positively when primary care providers (PCPs) address behavioral health (BH) concerns, a recent study shows. The article, Do Parents Expect Pediatricians to Pay Attention to Behavioral Health? is published in Clinical Pediatrics. Pediatricians may be uniquely positioned to deliver BH interventions because they see more children than BH providers, they have an existing relationship with the child and the family that may make the child more receptive to receiving BH care, and receiving mental health treatment within a medical clinic may help to reduce the stigma often associated with mental health care. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that PCPs take on more of a role in delivering BH care in pediatric primary care. Already, PCPs prescribe the majority of medications for children for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and depression.  With the focus of pediatric primary care visits expanding beyond simply physical health, it is important to assess how parents are responding to PCPs addressing their child’s mental health. In this study, parents (or guardians) of children were interviewed to understand the expectations that parents and guardians have in term of the role PCPs play in their child’s BH, as well as to understand parents’ reactions to PCPs behavioral interventions.

This study included 55 parents/guardians, with a child between the ages of 2-17 years, who was seen at an urban primary care clinic and referred to a mental health center. The results from the interviews found that parents/guardians differed in their view of the role of the PCP. Forty-seven percent perceived the PCP role as providing only physical health care; whereas, 53 percent expected the PCP to play a role in both physical health and BH. When parents/guardians were asked about their reaction to the PCP’s intervention for their child’s behavioral or mental health, 97 percent expressed a positive reaction. In particular, parents/guardians tended to have a positive reaction when the PCPs actions matched the parent’s/guardian’s expectations for the visit. 

This study demonstrated that overwhelmingly parents respond well to PCPs addressing the BH needs of their children during pediatric visits, with some parents expressing “greater appreciation for the PCP after he or she addressed a behavioral health issue.” Parents may view the PCP as being very thorough and caring when they take the time to address the child’s BH needs. Some parents may need additional education regarding the potential role that PCPs may have in their child’s mental health. The authors conclude that the study supports the need for medical homes, where a child can receive treatment for both physical and BH all in one location.