Blog
June 13, 2022

Keeping the Healers Healthy: New Service Provides Anonymous Mental Health Referral for Health Care Professionals

Todd Baker, Chief Executive Officer, Ohio State Medical Association

The trials of the pandemic have put a spotlight on the emotional toll that comes with being a health care professional, but it wasn’t news to us at the Ohio State Medical Association. Stress and burnout long have been issues in health care and we’ve been working for years to provide resources for physicians and other providers to obtain care for their own well-being.

Now, we’re pleased to introduce a new one: the Well-Being CARE (Checkup And Referral Engagement) Service — a simple, free and anonymous assessment of mental and emotional health.

Planning started several years ago under the OSMA presidency of Dr. Evangeline Andarsio, long a passionate advocate for physician well-being. COVID-19 only brought the issue more to the forefront and we hope that CARE will make a positive difference in the lives of many health-care professionals, their loved ones and their patients.

We look at CARE as an “on-ramp” for mental-health services, because we know that taking that first step can be among the hardest parts of seeking help.

Among health-care professionals, we are at ease talking about physical health. If we see a colleague with a physical ailment, we’re very comfortable talking about that and referring that person to where they can get the help they need. We’re not as comfortable having that conversation about mental health and burnout. And beyond that, even if we do have the conversation, most of us — unless we are ourselves mental-health professionals — don’t know where to send a colleague for help. CARE offers an easy, low-risk way to begin a journey to recovery.

Someone who feels a need for help can go to WellBeingCARE.org. After they create a user name and password that allows complete anonymity, they take a 10-minute assessment survey. A licensed mental-health professional, provided through our partnership with the Ohio Physician Health Program, will review their answers and reply with recommendations. Communication takes place anonymously via an online portal.

What happens next is up to the person seeking help. He or she can choose whether to connect with the mental-health professional who made the recommendations. Our job is to help people see what’s available; once they make a connection, that’s where our part of the journey ends.

Along with making those individual connections, our hope is that CARE accomplishes something else just as important: normalizing the conversation around mental-health challenges. When our task force began exploring the idea of mental-health support for physicians, we weren’t as concerned with a specific agenda as with simply getting health-care professionals together in an informal setting where they could talk freely about these issues.

We know that stigma is still a barrier to seeking mental-health services, especially for health-care professionals. That’s why CARE allows people to investigate the matter on their own terms. The service is by no means a complete system of mental health care; it’s an additional tool that health care professionals can use.

Having access to such a tool is important at any stage of a medical career. We know there are issues in medical school, in residency and internship, and we also have challenges for people who have been out there in the field for 20 or 30 years. In a pilot phase of the project, 80% of the professionals who completed the CARE survey were found to be at high risk of burnout.

Though the need is great, we also know it will take time before health-care professionals are as comfortable acknowledging their own mental health challenges as they are discussing physical ailments. I’m encouraged by all the good work being done on behalf of medical professionals’ well-being; CARE is just one more available resource.

Our task now is to make more professionals in Ohio aware of the service. In the coming months, we hope to schedule a number of in-person events around the state. As health-care providers, we need to be healthy to take care of our patients. If CARE can help one person, that has the potential to make a tremendous difference.