Integrating ADHD Care Into Pediatric Practice Is Doable and Essential

Tara Haelle

October 23, 2020

Integrating ADHD care into practice work flows is vitally important for all practitioners who care for children, said Herschel Lessin, MD, a senior partner of the Children's Medical Group in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

Although not necessarily "easy" to do, it's far less overwhelming than it seems when doctors take the time to thoughtfully set up protocols, train others in the office, and use the ADHD Toolkit sold by the American Academy of Pediatrics, Lessin told attendees at the annual meeting of the AAP, held virtually this year. Lessin is a coeditor of the AAP's ADHD Toolkit 3rd Ed., although he does not receive royalties from it. The toolkit includes patient handouts, clinicians tools, and rating scales that help practices incorporate ADHD care into their practices.

"The biggest complaint is: 'But I don't have enough time to do all of this stuff,' " Lessin said. "The reality is, once you're comfortable with the visits and you know how they progress and flow, they can be done much more quickly." He emphasized that practices can make money by integrating ADHD care into practice as long as they have a strategic plan and invest the time into training and protocols.

Lessin gave multiple reasons it's important to integrate ADHD care into practices, starting with the condition's prevalence and the importance of building a medical home for patients.

"ADHD affects 8%-10% of your patient population, a truly enormous number, yet many pediatricians do not treat ADHD in their practices, depriving their patients of needed care and depriving themselves from economic benefits of the visits and the revenue," he said. The pediatrician added that more than 80% of ADHD care takes place in pediatric offices, but much of it is "badly diagnosed and poorly treated" in both primary care and specialty offices.

Jesse Hackell, MD, a private practice pediatrician in a suburb of New York City and vice president of the New York AAP Chapter 3, attended the session and agreed with Lessin that pediatricians are best suited to manage ADHD over other practitioners.

"One of the things he pointed out is that it's a pediatric issue," Hackell said. "We're better at this than psychiatrists, than neurologists, than psychologists because we're really focused on the whole lifestyle of the child, how it impacts them at home, how it impacts them at school, and how it impacts them in the social sphere."

There's also been a substantial increase in mental health issues as a proportion of visits, particularly recently with the pandemic and accompanying lockdowns. Youth already have limited access to mental health resources, making general pediatricians' roles even more important. "Who else is going to provide this much needed service if not pediatricians?" Lessin asked.

Again, Hackell agreed, noting that the AAP's toolkit is especially helpful in providing this care.

"It's something that pediatricians have often been afraid to deal with and who farm them out to these other specialties, and I don't think the children are served as well," Hackell said. "If you do the right forms and questionnaires, you can actually make it work for the kids and work it for your office, which generates a lot of visits and generates revenue."

Where to Start

Lessin began by recommending that all pediatricians read the AAP's clinical practice guidelines for ADHD along with its supplemental material (Process of Care Algorithm, and Systemic Barriers to Care of Children and Adolescents with ADHD).

"The first thing is you must educate yourself," he said. "You have to learn the medicine and what are you able and comfortable doing because few of us were ever trained in our residency programs about ADHD care."

Providers also need to learn to manage barriers to care, including referral sources and insurance company and medication hassles. Then you need to figure out how to structure the visits, determine the most appropriate visit settings, and learn to document and code appropriately. These are not quick 10-minute visits, Lessin said. Doctors must schedule enough time for them, although they may be able to do them faster with practice.

Lessin offered encouraging words for those feeling overwhelmed: "Overcome your anxiety. This is not as hard as it seems. It's a little bit harder with comorbidities, but many chronic diseases we manage are far worse."

In addition to reading the guidelines and review articles, seeking out mental health training programs, and learning the medications available, Lessin told attendees to get comfortable with the fact that a lot of treatment comes down to trial and error.

Again, he emphasized the value of the toolkit, which Hackell echoed.

"It's a really nice roadmap to be able to follow and to explain how it requires two or three or four visits to treat these children well and get them started on treatment," Hackell said. "It's something that I recommend people use if they have not already done so to integrate ADHD care into their practices."

Beginning the Process

In figuring out how to structure visits, avoid addressing ADHD as a "by-the-way" issue, such as when a parent mentions it at the end of an appointment, Lessin said. Instead, start with an intake visit to determine whether you're the right person to evaluate the child and hand out Parent and Teacher Evaluation scales to begin the process. Next, do the evaluation, discuss the process with the family, determine how treatment will work, and then look at comorbidities.

Visit settings can be traditional face-to-face visits, which are particularly helpful for intake visits, Lessin said, or telehealth, especially during the pandemic. In-person visits allow you more easily to make eye contact with the child and observe the parent and child behaviors and interactions, but telehealth often is adequate for titrating medication, discussing side effects, monitoring, and similar follow-up.

"Coding practices are absolutely necessary to make your practice viable, much less make money," Lessin said. "Doing good for people and doing well for yourself are not mutually exclusive. You have to figure out a way to make it work economically for the practice or else you're just not going to do it."

He reminded pediatricians to code for evaluation, monitoring scales, and care coordination, and to be prepared for the big change of new coding rules coming in 2021.

"For better or worse, documentation is the key to survival in medical practice these days," Lessin said. "This is true for all medical care these days, but it's particularly true for ADHD because visits are all high intensity codes and should be coded as such."

Templates are fine, he said, but box-checking isn't enough; leave space for a narrative that explains the case complexity and decision-making.

Training Staff Is Essential

It's utterly essential to train all office staff, Lessin said. "I can't tell you how important this step is because no matter how much you know or how well you understand what you want to do, you're going to be frustrated at every turn if your staff and colleagues don't get this stuff."

That includes training those who make appointments, front desk staff, clinical staff, and practice colleagues regarding coding, scheduling, visit protocols, and similar procedures. Cheat sheets can be helpful here.

"They must understand the structure of the visits, what happens at each visit, the time requirements for each visit, and the standard follow-up," including, for clinical staff, what handouts and rating scales to use, he said. "And if they aren't sure what the parents needs or what you want, make sure they know to contact you."

Colleagues also need to learn to properly document visits to justify coding and complexity, and not dump all patients on you.

One challenge that Lessin acknowledged as a common problem is that many pediatricians don't have subspecialists they can refer patients to.

"Sadly, this is true almost everywhere, in rural and in big cities, near big medical centers and only local hospitals," Lessin said. "This another reason why I think you need to learn and treat this illness to the extent you can. Your families need you."

Hackell particularly appreciated this point, emphasizing again how important it is that pediatricians manage ADHD care of their patients.

"We see their day-to-day life, and that's where this impacts these kids and families," he said. "It's really rewarding to do from my personal experience because you can really make a really big difference in these kids' lives when they're younger and even as they get older. When you get the rewards, it makes the work all worthwhile."

Lessin and Hackell said they have no relevant financial disclosures.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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