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Access to timely mental health care treatment initiation among Veterans Health Administration patients with and without serious mental illness.

Nelson SM, Mach JJ, Hein TC, Abraham KM, Jedele JM, Bowersox NW. Access to timely mental health care treatment initiation among Veterans Health Administration patients with and without serious mental illness. Psychological Services. 2022 Aug 1; 19(3):488-493.

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Timely care initiation is a priority within the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). Patients with serious mental illnesses (SMI) are a group that benefits from timely care initiation due to elevated risks of negative outcomes with delayed care. However, no evaluation has assessed whether VHA SMI patients disproportionately experience delays in mental health care initiation. VHA administrative care data were used to compare delays in mental health care initiation for VHA patients with and without SMI who had newly identified mental health needs. Analyses assessed rates of delayed initial mental health appointments within five settings (General Mental Health [GMH], Primary Care Mental Health Integration [PC-MHI], Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD], Substance Use Disorder [SUD], and Psychosocial Rehabilitation clinics [PSR]). SMI patients were more likely to receive delayed initial appointments in three of five clinical settings (PTSD, SUD, PSR) and had significantly longer average wait times for an initial appointment when referred to the PTSD clinic for an initial appointment. Overall, SMI patients were equally as likely to receive delayed initial appointments. While VHA SMI patients were not more likely to experience delayed mental health care initiation overall, they were more likely to experience delays within three of the five treatment settings. Findings suggest that the majority of VHA SMI patients experience equivalent timeliness, though those with more complex needs, and particularly those with trauma-related care needs, may be more likely to experience treatment initiation delays. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved).

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