Frequently Asked Questions

“I don’t know whether I should be seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist. Am I seeking help at the right place?”

Many people are unsure of the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist. A psychiatrist is a physician who has completed medical school and has specialized residency training in psychiatry. Because they are medical doctors, psychiatrists can prescribe medications.

Psychologists are not physicians. Their degree is that of a PhD. or PsyD. Psychologists do not prescribe medications. Most psychologists have intensive training in the treatment of mental illness through a variety of types of therapy. Psychologists usually have a lot of experience providing testing. Child psychologists have specific training in the treatment of disorders often seen in childhood. There are also other mental health professionals who can see patients for therapy. These include marriage/family therapists (MFT’s) and licensed clinical social workers (LCSW’s).

“Mental health is very personal. How do psychiatrists preserve confidentiality?”

Psychiatry has a long tradition of respecting the privacy of individuals and the doctor-patient relationship. There are guidelines published by the American Psychiatric Association which spells out in some detail the ways in which a psychiatrist should protect patient-related information.

There is always pressure to dilute the strength of the therapist-patient privilege. For example, if you expect a third party, such as an insurance company or HMO, to pay for therapy, they will probably expect, in return, that your therapist provide them with some information about your diagnosis, treatment, and progress. Confidentiality is also limited by law (psychiatrists in California are required to report threats made against specific persons by patients) and by ethics (most psychiatrists will disclose personal information if it is necessary to prevent an acutely ill patient from deliberately harming him/herself or others, and/or if abuse has occurred).

“What is your confidentiality policy?”

Your information will not be discussed or released unless you have a plan to hurt yourself, someone else, or abuse has occurred. Otherwise, you must sign a Consent for Release of Information form giving us permission to share this information with your insurance company, another health care agent or family member.

All health care providers are mandated reporters of child or elder abuse.

“Does my insurance cover mental health visits at AMHA?”

Coverage for psychiatric services varies by health insurance plan. It is best to check with your insurance company first to verify your benefits and ensure that you have the proper referral or authorization. Contact our Office Manager at (310) 224-5287.

“What are my financial responsibilities?”

  • With Insurance Coverage: We participate with most insurance companies and your out-of-pocket expense is your co-pay for the visit. However, it depends on the benefits that your plan covers.
  • Without Insurance Coverage: If you don't have insurance or wish to receive or participate in a service that is not covered by your insurance, please ask us about our fees.

“What do you mean by "parity"?

In late 2000, the California legislature passed a law (Assembly Bill 88) that required insurers to cover treatment of certain mental illness on the same terms that they treat diseases outside the brain. This means that they could no longer charge different co-payments or place more strict limits on treatment of certain diseases simply on the grounds that they were brain diseases traditionally treated by psychiatrists.

“Why is an intake necessary before an appointment is made?”

It is necessary for the Clinical Coordinator to obtain an intake from the patient in order to gauge the acuity of the psychiatric problem. The acuity of the psychiatric problem determines whether the patient can be seen in the future at the office or if the patient will require immediate psychiatric assistance (i.e. the emergency room or direct admission to the psychiatric hospital).

“What are your appointment hours? “

Although our regular business hours are Monday through Wednesday, 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and Thursday through Friday 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., we only see patients for appointments at the office between 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, with the last follow-up scheduled at 5:50 p.m. and the last new patient scheduled at 5:20 p.m.

“How long do sessions usually last?”

Your first visit is usually 40 minutes long. Follow-up medication checks with the psychiatrist are generally 10 minutes.

“How do I reach the doctor’s nurse? What if I get voicemail when I call?”

The direct phone number for our nurse and Clinical Coordinator is (310) 224-5285. The Clinical Coordinator answers the line Monday through Friday, 8:30 am to 4:00 pm. If you get voicemail that means the nurse is busy talking to other individuals. Please leave your name, number and a brief message of why you are calling. We call people back in the order the calls are received. Please do not leave multiple messages. Please note that it may take up to the next business day until your call is returned.

“When is it necessary to use medication to treat a mental disorder?”

This is a decision left to the judgment of a trained professional, and not all professionals would necessarily agree on a threshold for using medication. Certainly, one factor to consider is the severity and duration of the disturbance. Another factor concerns whether there are effective medications to treat the particular mental disorder. In many cases a combination of some form of psychotherapy and medication can be the most powerful intervention. In other cases psychotherapy alone can be very effective. It is impossible to generalize an answer to this question.

“How long do I need to be on medication?”

Again, as with most of these questions, there is no simple answer or formula. Each situation is different. The psychiatrist must carefully and continuously evaluate the patient regarding the efficacy and continuing need for a given medication and whether a change in medication or dosage is necessary. In general, it is not advisable to discontinue a medication as soon as symptoms have abated. Thus, for example, in treating a major depressive disorder, it is customary to continue an antidepressant for six months to one year. Of course individual circumstances may vary and, in some cases, medication may need to be continued considerably longer. The same considerations hold true for anxiety disorders. Some psychiatric disorders, such as bipolar disorder, may necessitate an indefinite course of mood stabilizing medication to prevent recurrence of the disorder. However, even in these cases there are exceptions. In the case of some long-term conditions, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, after a period of combination therapy (medication and behavioral therapy), the behavioral treatment alone may suffice to keep symptoms at bay. Again, each situation is different and sometimes it is only through an empirical approach that the "correct" medication course can be determined.

“Does your office treat ADHD and chemical dependence/addiction as well?”

Dr. Pratty has extensive experience in treating attention disorders and is Board-Certified in Addiction Medicine. There are certain diagnostic tests and procedures that may or may not be covered by your health insurance provider. Please make sure to check with your insurance provider for coverage.

“What happens if I miss an appointment?”

Coming regularly and on time is an important aspect of your work with any clinician at AMHA Medical Group, Inc. Once we make an appointment, we set aside time for your use. If you miss or cancel an appointment with less than 24 hours notice, you can expect to be charged for that appointment. Please be aware that insurance companies and health plans often do not cover missed sessions.

“How do I make a follow-up appointment?”

Follow-up appointments, also known as medication management appointments, can be scheduled through the Receptionist by calling (310) 224-5286.

“What if I run out of medications?”

Medication prescriptions should be written during sessions with the psychiatrist. This allows us to discuss how they are working and how long you should take them. Occasionally, you may need a refill between sessions. Please call as soon as possible if this should happen to you. Please allow one to two days for the office staff to check against your records and acquire clinician/insurance approval. We will not authorize refills if you have no future appointments, since we are legally required to ensure that you are in active treatment if we prescribe medications.

“Why do some medications require Prior Authorization or Precertification?

Most prescription drug plans require you to get prior authorization for certain medications. This process is called precertification. Precertification encourages the appropriate and cost-effective use of medications by allowing coverage only when certain conditions are met.

There are several reasons we require precertification of certain medications:

  • Some are more likely to be taken incorrectly.
  • Some may be prescribed for inappropriate reasons or used in amounts that exceed recommendations for dosage or length of treatment.
  • Some are more expensive than other medications that have been shown to be clinically or therapeutically similar.
  • The precertification program is based on current medical findings, FDA-approved manufacturer labeling information and cost and manufacturer rebate arrangements.
  • For medications requiring precertification, your doctor must request authorization of coverage for the medication. If the request is approved, your doctor will be notified and the medication will then be covered at the applicable co-pay under your plan. If the request is denied, you and your doctor will be notified.

The medications requiring precertification are subject to change. Please call the Member Services number listed on your health insurance member ID card.

“What should I do in the event of an emergency?”

In the event of an emergency you should call 911 to avoid possible injury or loss of life. If you have an urgent need for consultation you should call the AMHA Urgent Request Line at (310) 224-5288.