High demand for anxiety classes at SIM-funded practice

This is the fourth in a series of articles that profile the work that practice transformation organizations and practices are doing to integrate behavioral and phyical healthcare. To read the first, please click here, to read the second click here, and to read the third click here.

High demand for anxiety classes at SIM-funded practice
By Heather Grimshaw

Social workers at Associates in Family Medicine (AFM), West Office created an anxiety class when they started seeing an increase in the number of patients presenting with symptoms. What they didn’t expect was the number of staff members who’d want to attend, so they turned the patient content into a staff wellness program and 40 AFM employees signed up the first day the class, which has a 60-person limit, was announced.

Demand from patients has also been high since the AFM class was launched last year, which prompted the team to schedule monthly group classes and expects to serve about 100 patients annually.

High demand for help is not uncommon when you consider the fact that anxiety disorders are the most common mental health concern in the country, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which estimates that about 40 million adults have an anxiety disorder.

The goal is to enroll patients with mild to moderate anxiety.

“It’s education, not therapy,” says Rebecca Lindsey, LCSW, social work care coordination manager for the AFM practice in Fort Collins, which participates in the Colorado State Innovation Model (SIM). The federally funded initiative helps health providers integrate physical and behavioral health in primary care practices to improve patient health and avoid or reduce unnecessary health care costs.

Improving access to high-quality care
There is a $40 “show-up fee” for three one-and-a-half hour sessions “so they have skin in the game,” patients get homework assignments after the first two classes and receive tools to help them manage symptoms, Lindsey explains.

The team created the classes after seeing an increase in the number of patients presenting with anxiety symptoms and didn’t know if they were following-up on referrals, says Lindsey, who rotates class facilitation with her colleagues.

AFM employs 11 social workers, who see patients at nine AFM practices and facilitate anxiety classes from 6—7:30pm. One physician attends a meeting in each series and conducts one-on-one medication checks with attendees, 80% of whom are on anxiety medication.

The group classes provide an opportunity for AFM providers to see 10 patients in one hour instead of individual visits, which are at least 15 minutes each. Most of the time the visits are longer because, as Lindsey says, “sometimes patients get chatty but we’re taking care of that in the group visits.”

Empowering patients
This approach expands patient access and enhances quality of care. “Patients tell us they feel more in control of their symptoms instead of having their symptoms drive their behavior,” says Lindsey.

And, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety can drive behavior. The ADAA notes that while anxiety disorders are treatable, “only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment” and “people with an anxiety disorder are three to five times more likely to go to the doctor and six times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric disorders than those who do not suffer from anxiety disorders.”