Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Screening Practices: A 2010 Internet Assessment of Customary Care

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Objective: Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a signature injury of war among returning soldiers and US National Guard and Reserve members, with symptoms even more likely on rescreening. Studies that examine health care provider screening and referral practices outside the military for these patients are needed. The objective of this study was to assess health care provider PTSD practices and barriers to care.

Method: A 25-item, anonymous Internet questionnaire was developed as an educational needs assessment survey based on the US Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense PTSD guideline and the companion, primary care–directed PTSD Screening and Referral for Health Care Providers of the National Center for PTSD. The assessment design included patient vignettes followed by multiple-choice questions and was distributed on the Internet to health care providers free of charge and without compensation. Of 1,338 participant health care providers, mainly from primary care and mental health specialties, 507 responded to the questions. Participant privacy was maintained for the self-assessment survey, and all responses were deidentified and analyzed in aggregate. Overall participant responses and subgroups of primary care and mental health questionnaire responses were scored against guidelines. Participant data responses to survey questions were collected from August 20, 2010, to October 3, 2010.

Results: Gaps in screening skills compared with guidelines were shown, as PTSD diagnosis questions were correctly answered by 51% of primary care and 56% of mental health providers. Real-world screening and referral differed from guidelines, as only 24% of primary care and 48% of mental health providers have a system in place to routinely screen for mental health in their patients who are returning service members. Only 25% of primary care providers had access to referral to mental health services, showing large gaps in care. Stigma associated with mental disorders was the practice barrier most frequently cited by health care providers.

Conclusions: The study identified gaps in PTSD screening and linkage to care among health care providers. Further training efforts and resources are needed to screen patients and to reduce barriers to care.

Prim Care Companion CNS Disord 2011;13(5): doi:10.4088/PCC.11m01171

Submitted: February 18, 2011; accepted May 9, 2011.

Published online: September 22, 2011.

Corresponding author: Jennifer J. Brown, PhD, 825 Eighth Ave, 11th Floor, New York, NY (

Prim Care Companion CNS Disord 2011;13(5):doi:10.4088/PCC.11m01171