Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Health Services Research and BioMed Central.

Open Access Research article

Characteristics of practitioners in a private managed behavioral health plan

Sharon Reif*, Maria E Torres, Constance M Horgan and Elizabeth L Merrick

Author Affiliations

Institute for Behavioral Health, Heller School for Social Policy and Management Brandeis University, Waltham, MA, USA

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Health Services Research 2012, 12:283  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-12-283

Published: 28 August 2012



Little is known about the practitioners in managed behavioral healthcare organization (MBHO) networks who are treating mental and substance use disorders among privately insured patients in the United States. It is likely that the role of the private sector in treating behavioral health will increase due to the recent implementation of federal parity legislation and the inclusion of behavioral health as a required service in the insurance exchange plans created under healthcare reform. Further, the healthcare reform legislation has highlighted the need to ensure a qualified workforce in order to improve access to quality healthcare, and provides an additional focus on the behavioral health workforce. To expand understanding of treatment of mental and substance use disorders among privately insured patients, this study examines practitioner types, experience, specialized expertise, and demographics of in-network practitioners providing outpatient care in one large national MBHO.


Descriptive analyses used 2004 practitioner credentialing and other administrative data for one MBHO. The sample included 28,897 practitioners who submitted at least one outpatient claim in 2004. Chi-square and t-tests were used to compare findings across types of practitioners.


About half of practitioners were female, 12% were bilingual, and mean age was 53, with significant variation by practitioner type. On average, practitioners report 15.3 years of experience (SD = 9.4), also with significant variation by practitioner type. Many practitioners reported specialized expertise, with about 40% reporting expertise for treating children and about 60% for treating adolescents.


Overall, these results based on self-report indicate that the practitioner network in this large MBHO is experienced and has specialized training, but echo concerns about the aging of this workforce. These data should provide us with a baseline of practitioner characteristics as we enter an era that anticipates great change in the behavioral health workforce.

Health plans; Managed care; Treatment providers; Demographics; Substance abuse; Mental health