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A comparison of patient-reported mental health outcomes for the Department of Veterans Affairs' regional telehealth and Community Care Programs.

Fortney JC, Carey EP, Rajan S, Rise PJ, Gunzburger EC, Felker BL. A comparison of patient-reported mental health outcomes for the Department of Veterans Affairs' regional telehealth and Community Care Programs. Health services research. 2022 Aug 1; 57(4):755-763.

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OBJECTIVES: To compare patient-reported outcomes for veterans with limited access to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) mental health services referred to the Veterans Community Care Program (VCCP) or regional telehealth Clinical Resource Hubs-Mental Health (CRH-MH). DATA SOURCES: This national evaluation used secondary data from the VA Corporate Data Warehouse, chart review, and primary data collected by baseline survey between October 8, 2019 and May 27, 2020 and a 4-month follow-up survey. STUDY DESIGN: A quasi-experimental longitudinal study design was used to sample 545 veterans with VCCP or CRH-MH referrals for new treatment episodes. Patient-reported outcomes included symptom severity, perceived access, utilization, and patient-centeredness. DATA COLLECTION: During the baseline and follow-up surveys, all veterans were administered the Patient Health Questionnaire-8 (PHQ-8) to assess depression severity, and veterans with a provisional diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were also administered the PTSD Checklist for DSM-5 (PCL-5) to assess PTSD symptom severity. The 4-month follow-up survey also asked about perceived access using the Perceived Access Inventory, the number of encounters, and patient-centeredness of care using the Patient-Centered Care portion of the Veterans Satisfaction Survey. PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: Results indicated that compared to VCCP consults, veterans with CRH-MH consults reported 0.65 (CI   =  0.51-0.83, p < 0.01) times the number of barriers to care, but a non-significant lower number of encounters (-0.792, CI -2.221, 0.636, p  =  0.28). There was no significant (p  =  0.24) difference in satisfaction with patient-centeredness, with both groups "agreeing" on average to positively worded questions. Veterans in both groups experienced little improvement in depression or PTSD symptom severity, and there were no clinically meaningful differences between groups. CONCLUSIONS: Overall findings indicate that the CRH-MH and VCCP generate similar patient-reported outcomes. Future research should compare the quality and cost of care delivered by the VCCP and CRH-MH programs.

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