Program addresses shortened lifespan of the mentally ill

by Hennepin Healthcare

Dr. Mark Linzer

Dr. Mark Linzer

Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) has recently established a new program in Medical Psychiatry to address the needs of patients with co-existing medical and psychiatric illnesses.

“The literature shows that patients with psychiatric illness die up to 25 years sooner than patients without psychiatric illness,” explains program co-founder Dr. Mark Linzer. “While there are multiple causes for this mortality gap, the HCMC Program in Medical Psychiatry is designed to address many of these issues for both inpatients and outpatients with medical and psychiatric illnesses.”

Dr. Linzer, along with Chief of Psychiatry Dr. Michael Popkin and Dr. Ellen Coffey, a senior general internist, designed the program to include:
1) multidisciplinary teaching rounds on the inpatient Psychiatry service; 2) an internist practicing in the psychiatric outpatient day treatment program; 3) 5 mental health professionals embedded in the Medicine Clinics at HCMC; and 4) a developing medicine psychiatry unit on the inpatient Medicine service.  The program has received support from UCare, and funds have been used to build a database to oversee an evaluation of the multifaceted program.

“What if you or someone you love had a common health problem, and it was discovered that people who did not have that common problem actually  lived longer?” asks program co-founder Dr. Ellen Coffey. “We wanted to do something about this — so we targeted our efforts to establishing the program to achieve healthier outcomes for our patients with mental illness.”  

Physicians and psychiatric staff meet weekly to assess patient progress, psychiatric and medical care needs.

Physicians and psychiatric staff meet weekly to assess the psychiatric and medical care needs of patients.

This model program seeks to improve the quality of care of medical-psychiatric patients, develop a new workforce interested in caring for these patients, and become self-sustaining so the care can be continued for years to come at HCMC and emulated elsewhere.

“It has been a privilege to participate in building the Medical Psychiatry program at HCMC,” said Dr. Linzer.  “It is both rewarding and meaningful to think that we might be able to address the premature mortality among these vulnerable patients.”

An article about HCMC’s Medical Psychiatry program, (currently available online for subscribers) will be published in the March Journal of General Internal Medicine (JGIM).  JGIM is the official journal of the Society of General Internal Medicine (SGIM).  JGIM promotes improved patient care, research and education in general internal medicine.