An anonymous online mental health screening tool for Tennessee health professionals saw more than three times the activity expected during its first full year. TMF officials said they believe the higher usage was likely driven by stress related to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We initially expected about 75 health professionals to engage with the screening tool in its first year; we actually had 238 Tennessee health professionals accessing the site from February 2020 to February 2021,” said TMF Medical Director Michael Baron, MD, MPH, FASAM.
The TMF Physician’s Health Program initiated the Tennessee Professional Screening Questionnaire (TNPSQ) as part of an effort to become more proactive in the face of increasing mental and behavioral health referrals. It utilizes the Interactive Screening Program or ISP, a platform developed by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).
“We wanted to find a way to hopefully preempt an intervention or formal referral to the TMF, or an employer or state licensing board action,” Dr. Baron explained. The timing of the screening tool was providential, he added. “This tool is needed, especially now when physician and health professional stress is increased because of the pandemic,” he said.
Data from February 3, 2020-February 2, 2021 shows that of 238 TNPSQ screeners, 74 percent logged back in to the platform after their screening to view the program counselor’s response and recommendations; of those, 35 percent chose to dialogue anonymously with the counselor and of those, 68 percent requested an appointment or referral.
TNPSQ user engagement was significantly higher than reported national averages for the ISP, according to AFSP ISP Senior Director Maggie Mortali. “This further highlights how this program is meeting the needs of health professionals to connect to mental health services in a way that feels safe and accessible,” she said.
Another important result: 84 percent of screeners were not already in therapy or treatment. Users also expressed appreciation for the tool’s anonymity and availability. Dr. Baron said this confirms the tool is reaching its target population: health professionals who are not already receiving help, and who likely would not contact the TMF on their own.
The tool does not replace the comprehensive assistance, support, and advocacy offered by the TMF Physician’s Health Program, said Dr. Baron, but is one more resource in its arsenal to help health professionals who are struggling, especially as they cope with challenges related to the pandemic.
“The goal is to connect more people to the help they need earlier in the process – to be proactive versus reactive – hopefully before there’s a need for intervention by employers, a TMF referral, or licensing board action,” he said.
ABOUT THE TNPSQ
The TNPSQ is strictly a non-crisis service, providing a confidential and free online mental health screening with referrals to appropriate mental health resources and optional interaction with a program counselor.
The tool is available to health professionals served by the TMF, which include physicians (MDs and DOs), physician assistants, optometrists, chiropractors, podiatrists, x-ray technologists, and veterinarians, as well as students, residents, interns, and other trainees for these professions at all levels.