January 15, 2014

APA Center for Psychology and Health Works to Expand Psychology’s Role in Health Care

Behavioral expertise critical to health promotion and disease prevention

WASHINGTON — As the nation strives to ensure access to quality health care for all Americans, the American Psychological Association (APA) is working to expand psychology’s role in all aspects of the evolving health care system, including advocacy and educational efforts that promote psychological expertise on integrated, interprofessional health care teams and in interdisciplinary health research, among other activities.

A key component of this effort is APA’s Center for Psychology and Health, which was created in January 2013 by APA CEO Norman B. Anderson, PhD. The center includes an Office of Health Care Financing, directed by Randy Phelps, PhD, which advocates for federal and commercial payment policies to sustain and promote access to psychological services, including in primary care. The operations of the center are managed by APA’s Senior Policy Advisor Ellen Garrison, PhD. A senior leadership team composed primarily of APA executive directors helps to carry out the center’s mission.

“The creation of the APA Center for Psychology and Health reflects the association’s ongoing commitment to helping psychology and psychologists continue to make important contributions to our nation’s health care system,” Anderson said. “As the nation struggles to make its health care system more efficient and improve health outcomes, the findings from our research and the behavioral expertise of psychologists, particularly in the area of health promotion and disease prevention, are critical. 

“Our overall goal is to ensure that psychologists and other health professions have the training, access to research findings and other practice tools they need to best serve their patients. It is also important that we have a place at the health policy-making table to ensure that policies recognize the critical role of behavior in improving health outcomes.”

During 2013, the center focused its work in four main areas: education and training for psychologists and other health professionals; advocacy; public awareness; and member communications. Developing partnerships with APA divisions, as well as with allied health-focused groups and organizations, will be critical to the center’s success. The center has already formed partnerships with the APA Interdivisional Health Care Committee and with the Society of Behavioral Medicine among other groups. APA is also a member of the Executive Committee of the Patient-Centered Primacy Care Collaborative, which promotes the implementation of interdisciplinary team-based health care. 

Also during the past year, the center’s Office of Health Care Financing and the APA Practice Organization completed work through the American Medical Association and the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to redefine and revalue psychotherapy services in health care. This process resulted in the first increase since 2005 in the total funds reserved by Medicare for payments to psychologists this year. Work to increase the value of psychological services for physical health conditions and to gain reimbursement for team-based services in integrated health care will continue to be a priority, according to Anderson.

As part of its work to educate the public and allied professions about psychology’s essential role in promoting good health, the center produced a series of health care briefing sheets in collaboration with APA’s Interdivisional Health Care Committee. The briefing sheets address a range of health concerns, including obesity, cancer, heart disease and chronic pain. The center also developed briefs about the roles psychologists can play in primary care and in integrated health care more broadly, based on a review of the scientific literature on the importance of attention to behavioral and psychosocial factors in those settings. 

This year, the center will continue to build working partnerships with other health professions and educate the public about the contributions of psychologists to health. The center and APA’s Center for Workforce Studies will also survey APA members and create a database of psychologists who provide interprofessional health services and conduct interdisciplinary health research.

The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States. APA's membership includes more than 134,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people's lives.