Kids are much more likely to participate in behavioral and mental health treatment when they can access it directly at their pediatrician’s office, a new study finds.

Compared to children who were referred to an outside provider, kids whose behavior problems were addressed by a clinician based in their doctor’s office saw greater improvement, researchers report in the April issue of the journal Pediatrics. What’s more, parents of children treated at their pediatrician’s office had lower stress levels and doctors seemed to like the in-house approach too.

For the study, researchers followed 321 children struggling with behavior problems for six months. Half of the kids were provided “doctor office collaborative care,” meaning that a trained clinician met with the child or their family within their pediatrician’s office to identify and address goals to improve behavior.

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The remaining children were given educational materials and referred to a mental health specialist elsewhere in the community. In both cases, the child’s pediatrician was given updates and could prescribe medication as needed, researchers said.

Ultimately, children offered treatment at their doctor’s office were over six times more likely to complete the program. Kids treated in both environments saw improvement, but those who participated in the collaborative care approach “showed significantly greater reductions in the severity of behavior problems, hyperactivity, and internalizing problems, greater remission of behavior and internalizing problems and a higher proportion of overall treatment responders,” the study found.

Moreover, pediatricians also benefitted from providing the mental health treatment within their practices, researchers said, with doctors reporting greater confidence in treating children with behavior issues as compared to physicians who merely referred patients elsewhere.

“In fact, the participating pediatric practices in this clinical trial later hired their own mental health clinicians to continue delivering on-site services, after the trial had ended,” said David Kolko of the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences who led the study.

“Treating both physical and behavioral health in the office of the child’s pediatrician is an achievable goal that provides many benefits to the child, caregiver and pediatrician,” Kolko said.

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