Clinical Effectiveness of Using an Integrated Model to Treat Depressive Symptoms in Veterans Affairs Primary Care Clinics and Its Impact on Health Care Utilization

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Objective: To determine if veterans treated in an integrated mental health program within a Veterans Affairs (VA) primary care clinic sustained long-term improvement in depressive symptoms and changed their use of health care.

Method: In this pilot program, 72 veterans were offered short-term treatment for depressive symptoms by a colocated psychiatrist who was integrated into a VA primary care team (October 1, 1997, through September 30, 1999). Patients were assessed initially and at their final session using the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale. Veterans who completed treatment were referred back to their primary care provider or to specialty mental health services. Patients were contacted and invited to be reevaluated 3 to 5 years later using the same measure (December 1, 2001, through November 30, 2002). Health care utilization data were collected for 1 year preintervention and 2 years postintervention. Outcomes for treatment completers were compared to outcomes for those who declined or dropped out of treatment.

Results: Of 48 patients who agreed to participate in the study, 27 completed treatment and showed a significant decline in symptoms from pretreatment to follow-up (P = .008) compared to 16 noncompleters, as well as a moderate-to-large between-group effect size (d = 0.78) and trends for higher remission and response rates. Completers ranked significantly higher in the number of antidepressant prescriptions filled before (P = .002) and after treatment (P = .001) and in the number of medical visits postintervention (year 1: P = .021; year 2: P = .023), without an associated cost increase.

Conclusions: Colocated mental health care integrated into VA primary care is associated with sustained improvement of depressive symptoms in a heterogeneous patient population with a high incidence of psychiatric comorbidities. This finding compares favorably with the results of earlier controlled clinical trials and suggests a potential effect on health care utilization.

Prim Care Companion CNS Disord 2011;13(4): doi:10.4088/PCC.10m01096

Submitted: October 7, 2010; accepted January 31, 2011.

Published online: August 18, 2011 (doi:10.4088/PCC.10m01096).

Corresponding author: Anna G. Engel, MD, Boston VA Healthcare System, Department of Psychiatry, 1400 VFW Pkwy, West Roxbury, MA 02132 (Anna.engel2@va.gov).

Prim Care Companion CNS Disord 2011;13(4):doi:10.4088/PCC.10m01096

https://doi.org/10.4088/PCC.10m01096