Improving behavioral health workforce supply and need estimates using active surveillance data

Shinobu Watanabe-Galloway, Li Wu Chen, Kate Trout, David Palm, Marlene Deras, Zaeema Naveed

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Introduction: Previous studies show that supply of behavioral health professionals in rural areas is inadequate to meet the need. Measuring shortage using licensure data on psychiatrists is a common approach. Although inexpensive, the licensure data have many limitations. An alternative is to implement an active surveillance system, which uses licensure data in addition to active data collection to obtain timely and detailed information. Methods: Nebraska Health Professions Tracking Service (HPTS) data were used to examine differences in workforce supply estimates between the passive (licensure data only) and active (HPTS data) surveillance systems. The impact of these differences on the designation of psychiatric professional shortage areas has been described. Information regarding the number of psychiatrists, advanced practice registered nurses and physician assistants specializing in psychiatry was not available from the licensure database, unlike HPTS. Results: Using licensure data versus HPTS data to estimate workforce, the counts of professionals actively practicing in psychiatry and behavioral health were overestimated by 24.1–57.1%. Ignoring work status, the workforce was overestimated by 10.0–17.4%. Providers spent 54–78% of time seeing patients. Based on primary practice location, 87% of counties did not have a psychiatrist and 9.6% were at or above the Health Professional Shortage Area designation ratio of psychiatrists to population. Conclusion: Enumeration methods such as ongoing surveillance, in addition to licensure data, curtails the issues and improves identification of shortage areas and future behavioral workforce related planning and implementation strategies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalRural and remote health
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2019


  • Behavioral health
  • Health professionals tracking service
  • Health workforce
  • Nebraska
  • Surveillance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medical Services
  • Health(social science)
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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