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Perceived access to general medical and psychiatric care among veterans with bipolar disorder.

Zeber JE, Copeland LA, McCarthy JF, Bauer MS, Kilbourne AM. Perceived access to general medical and psychiatric care among veterans with bipolar disorder. American journal of public health. 2009 Apr 1; 99(4):720-7.

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OBJECTIVES: We examined associations between patient characteristics and self-reported difficulties in accessing mental health and general medical care services. METHODS: Patients were recruited from the Continuous Improvement for Veterans in Care-Mood Disorders study. We used multivariable logistic regression analyses to assess whether predisposing (demographic characteristics), enabling (e.g., homelessness), or need (bipolar symptoms, substance abuse) factors were associated with difficulties in obtaining care, difficulties in locating specialty providers, and forgoing care because of cost. RESULTS: Patients reported greater difficulty in accessing general medical services than in accessing psychiatric care. Individuals experiencing bipolar symptoms more frequently avoided psychiatric care because of cost (odds ratio [OR] = 2.43) and perceived greater difficulties in accessing medical specialists (OR = 2.06). Homeless individuals were more likely to report hospitalization barriers, whereas older and minority patients generally encountered fewer problems accessing treatment. CONCLUSIONS: Need and enabling factors were most influential in predicting self-reported difficulties in accessing care, subsequently interfering with treatment dynamics and jeopardizing clinical outcomes. Efforts in the Department of Veterans Affairs to expand mental health care access should be coupled with efforts to ensure adequate access to general medical services among patients with chronic mental illnesses.

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