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Background information

The introduction of the Better Access to Psychiatrists, Psychologists and General Practitioners through the Medicare Benefits Schedule (Better Access) initiative in 2006 has seen increased treatment rates of people with mental health disorders over the last decade.[1]  In addition to providing positive outcomes for consumers, Better Access has also facilitated improved collaboration between mental health professionals. Built into this initiative is the requirement for strong direct communication between the referrer and the treating professionals at the commencement, during, and at the conclusion of treatment. As a result the mental health professions have sought to increase collaboration and cooperation to promote better outcomes for patients. A key initiative by the Collaborative Care Models Working Group, a committee of the Private Mental Health Alliance, made up of the major providers of private mental health services in Australia, was the development of the 2013 document, the Principles for Collaboration, Communication and Cooperation between Private Mental Health Service Providers. This document provided high level principles to guide shared care and communication for mental health providers.

While these principles provided an excellent base to outline expected professional behaviour, high level principles typically need ‘unpacking’ and additional clarification at a practical level to assist the decision making of professionals.  As a result, in 2014 the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) developed a Professional Practice Guideline entitled, Professional Practice Guideline: Best practice referral, communication and shared care arrangements between psychiatrists, general practitioners and psychologists, which detailed guidelines to provide direction for psychiatrists about managing communication and collaboration in the context of shared care. These guidelines are specific to psychiatry, although to some extent they also assist other mental health professionals in understanding the processes for working more effectively with patients who are also receiving services from a psychiatrist.

The General Practice Mental Health Standards Collaboration (GPMHSC) is tasked with supporting mental health professionals, and particularly those who provide services under the Better Access to Psychiatrists, Psychologists and General Practitioners initiative (Better Access). A primary role of the GPMHSC is the development of competencies in primary mental health service provision through ensuring appropriate training and resources. In reviewing the two documents identified above, the GPMHSC identified a need for practical guidelines on effective communication to support mental health professionals generally.  This document extends on the guidelines developed by RANZCP to provide guidance to all mental health professions by outlining best practice principles for communication between medical[2] and mental health professionals, with the aim of improving communication, and ultimately, patient outcomes.

In developing this guide, and ensuring its relevance to all professions involved in the Better Access Initiative and in primary mental health care more generally, the GPMHSC engaged in a consultation process with relevant member organisations including the Australian Psychological Society, the Australian Association of Social Workers, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, Occupational Therapy Australia and the Australian College of Mental Health Nurses.


  1. Pirkis, J., Harris, M., Hall, W., & Ftanou, M. (2011). Evaluation of the Better Access to Psychiatrists, Psychologists and General Practitioners through the Medicare Benefits Schedule initiative: summative evaluation. Melbourne: Centre for Health Policy, Programs and Economics.
  2. Although reference is made to medical professionals generally, it is acknowledged that this document will have most relevance to general practitioners, psychiatrists and paediatricians as they are the most likely medical professionals engaging with mental health professionals.


Practice guide: Communication between medical and mental health professionals