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Association of Veterans Affairs Primary Care Mental Health Integration With Care Access Among Men and Women Veterans.

Leung LB, Rubenstein LV, Post EP, Trivedi RB, Hamilton AB, Yoon J, Jaske E, Yano EM. Association of Veterans Affairs Primary Care Mental Health Integration With Care Access Among Men and Women Veterans. JAMA Network Open. 2020 Oct 1; 3(10):e2020955.

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Importance: Women veterans increasingly seek care yet continue to face barriers in the Veterans Health Administration (VA), which predominantly cares for men. Evidence-based collaborative care models can improve patient access to treatment of depression, which is experienced at higher rates by women. While the VA has implemented these care models nationally, it is not known whether access improvements occur equitably across genders in primary care. Objective: To examine whether the VA's national Primary Care-Mental Health Integration (PC-MHI) initiative (beginning 2007) expanded realized access to mental health care similarly for men and women. Design, Setting, and Participants: This cohort study included 5 377 093 million primary care patients assigned to 396 VA clinics that provided integrated mental health services nationally between October 2013 and September 2016. Data analysis occurred between May 2017 and July 2020. Exposures: Clinic PC-MHI penetration, calculated as the proportion of clinic patients who saw an integrated specialist per fiscal year. Main Outcomes and Measures: Estimates of mean VA health care utilization (mental health, primary care, other specialty care, telephone, hospitalizations) and median total costs for men and women. Multilevel models adjusted for year, clinic, patient characteristics, and interactions between patient-defined gender and clinic PC-MHI penetration. Results: This study examined 5 377 093 veterans (448 455 [8.3%] women; 3 744 140 [69.6%] White) with a mean (SD) baseline age 62.0 (16.6) years. Each percentage-point increase in the proportion of clinic patients who saw an integrated specialist was associated with 38% fewer mental health visits per year for women (incidence rate ratio [IRR], 0.62; 95% CI, 0.60-0.65), but 39% more visits for men (IRR, 1.39; 95% CI, 1.34-1.44; P < .001). Both men and women had more primary care visits (men: IRR, 1.40; 95% CI, 1.36-1.45; women: IRR, 1.22; 95% CI, 1.17-1.28; P < .001) and total costs (men: [SE], 2.23 [0.10]; women: [SE], 1.24 [0.15]; P = .06), but women had 74% fewer hospitalizations than men related to clinics with mental health integration (IRR, 0.26; 95% CI, 0.19-0.36 vs IRR, 1.02; 95% CI, 0.83-1.24; P < .001). Conclusions and Relevance: While greater outpatient service use for men was observed in this study, PC-MHI was associated with a decrease in mental health specialty visits (and hospitalizations) for women veterans, potentially signifying a shift of services to primary care. With increasing patient choice for where veterans receive care, the VA must tailor medical care to the needs of rising numbers of women patients. Differences in health care utilization by gender highlight the importance of anticipating policy impacts on and tailoring services for patients in the numerical minority in the VA and other health systems.

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