American Psychological Foundation

Amy Przeworski, PhD, refers to her daughter's pediatrician as "psychologically savvy." At wellness visits, he asks if her 3-year-old seems anxious or feels a little down. But like many others around the country, Przeworski's pediatrician doesn't formally screen for anxiety and depression.

"Data show pediatricians don't feel equipped," says Przeworski, an assistant professor of psychology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. "They're not well-trained in screening for psychological symptoms." In addition, many don't feel they have the time to conduct such screenings and don't know how to bill for it.

With a $10,000 grant from the American Psychological Foundation's newly established John and Polly Sparks Early Career Grant program, Przeworski hopes to help pediatricians break through these barriers. She is planning a national survey asking pediatricians to describe the roadblocks that prevent them from screening children for anxiety and depression. She hopes to receive about 200 responses that also will help her develop a continuing education workshop to boost pediatricians' knowledge of anxiety and depression symptoms in children, risk factors for both conditions and ways to talk with parents about psychological disorders.

Next, she hopes to implement an early screening program for 5- to 7-year-olds with pediatricians who respond to the survey. The screening tool will be a questionnaire for parents to complete and return to the pediatric practice. Nurses and medical assistants will be trained to score the questionnaires.

Last, Przeworski plans to develop a prevention program administered by psychologists in pediatric practices. "The goal is to integrate psychological screening with pediatrics so they don't have to make referrals across different hospitals and practices," she says.

Przeworski is the first recipient of the APF John and Polly Sparks Grant, which is aimed at making a difference in treating serious emotional disturbances in children.

"We're really excited to partner with the John and Polly Sparks Foundation to bring psychology where it will make a difference in the lives of children," says APF President Dorothy W. Cantor, PsyD.

Przeworski is addressing an important topic, says Kelly Kelleher, MD, professor of pediatrics at The Ohio State University and director of the Center for Innovation in Pediatric Practice at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. "Anxiety and depression contribute to a lot of future problems in children and adolescents," he says.

And, as more provisions of the Affordable Care Act go into effect next year, Kelleher sees future possibilities for Przeworski's research. "This study could be useful in five years" when physicians and psychologists will work in integrated practices and share information in electronic health records, he says.

Rebecca Voelker is a writer in Chicago.