Dell Medical School at the University of Texas has started a program to connect pediatricians to a psychiatrist, psychologist or mental health resource expert to better help their patients.


Pediatricians can call the Child Psychiatry Access Network helpline, which launched May 18, while their patients are in the office to get one of those experts to consult on things such as attention deficit disorder medication adjustments, next steps for psychological care or how to find care.


The helpline connects with Dell Medical School psychiatrists, psychologists and other staffers from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and promises to return a pediatrician’s call within 30 minutes.


“We want the child and their family to be treated as much as possible with their primary care doctor,” said Dr. Roshni Koli, the clinical lead for the on-demand mental health resource. “They are looking at physical health as well as mental health and realizing it is all intertwined.”


The new resource is also to help pediatricians feel more comfortable in this work. Sometimes the helpline will recommend and refer a family to a specialist.


In its first week, 100 area pediatricians had signed up to participate.


The Child Psychiatry Access Network is a statewide initiative created in 2019 by Senate Bill 11 and funded with almost $100 million from the state. Dell Medical School is one of 11 centers throughout the state doing this work. It covers 13 counties.


While Austin is relatively OK in the number of pediatric mental health providers for the population, Koli said, “the state of Texas really struggles in terms of access to mental health care. There are many areas and towns that have no child psychologist.”


Even in Austin, sometimes families struggle with access to care because of insurance.


Senate Bill 11 also funded another program, which Dell Medical School will launch in the fall. It will provide telemedicine mental health visits to children in schools. Each child referred to the program by the school will have access to four free visits with a specialist.


Dell Medical School is creating ways to provide the program if schools do not physically return in the fall because of the coronavirus.


The physician’s helpline has no limit of visits. Pediatricians just need to sign up for it by calling 512-843-3007 or emailing CPAN@austin.utexas.edu.


If families have children who are having suicidal thoughts or are at risk of harming themselves or others, they should not wait for a visit to a pediatrician but should go to an emergency room for psychiatric services.