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Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Its Impact on the Economic and Health Costs of Motor Vehicle Accidents in South Australia

J Clin Psychiatry 2003;64(2):175-181

Background: Motor vehicle accident studies thus far have focused primarily on psychiatric consequences and outcomes and medicolegal and treatment aspects, particularly of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This study aimed to determine the impact of motor vehicle accident-related psychiatric disorders on health and economic costs in quantitative terms.

Method: Of the 3088 victims of motor vehicle accidents who made a claim through the State Insurance Commission, South Australia, between November 27, 1996, and March 23, 1999, 391 responded to the study and were assessed using the 28-item General Health Questionnaire, the PTSD Checklist-Civilian Version, and the Dissociative Experiences Scale. At the end of the study period, computerized cost records and accounting data on the health and economic costs incurred were obtained for each of the subjects.

Results: The total health and economic cost in Australian dollars for the 391 motor vehicle accident victims was A$6,369,519.52. At about 9 months after the accident, of the 391 subjects who replied to the questionnaires, 31% were identified as depressed and 62% as anxious, while 29% met criteria for PTSD. PTSD cases incurred significantly higher health care costs compared with non-PTSD cases (p < .001). Untreated PTSD cases incurred significantly higher economic losses compared with treated PTSD and non-PTSD cases (p < .05).

Conclusion: The health and economic costs associated with motor vehicle accidents are enormous. Psychiatric morbidity among victims was high, and motor vehicle accident-related PTSD significantly contributed to increased overall health care and economic costs.