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Differences Between VHA-Delivered and VHA-Purchased Behavioral Health Care in Service and Patient Characteristics.

Vanneman ME, Rosen AK, Wagner TH, Shwartz M, Gordon SH, Greenberg G, Zheng T, Cook J, Beilstein-Wedel E, Greene T, Kelley AT. Differences Between VHA-Delivered and VHA-Purchased Behavioral Health Care in Service and Patient Characteristics. Psychiatric services (Washington, D.C.). 2023 Feb 1; 74(2):148-157.

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OBJECTIVE: Federal legislation has expanded Veterans Health Administration (VHA) enrollees'' access to VHA-purchased "community care." This study examined differences in the amount and type of behavioral health care delivered in VHA and purchased in the community, along with patient characteristics and area supply and demand factors. METHODS: This retrospective cross-sectional study examined data for 204,094 VHA enrollees with 448,648 inpatient behavioral health stays and 3,467,010 enrollees with 55,043,607 outpatient behavioral health visits from fiscal years 2016 to 2019. Standardized mean differences (SMDs) were calculated for patient and provider characteristics at the outpatient-visit level for VHA and community care. Linear probability models assessed the association between severity of behavioral health condition and site of care. RESULTS: Twenty percent of inpatient stays were purchased through community care, with severe behavioral health conditions more likely to be treated in VHA inpatient care. In the outpatient setting, community care accounted for 3% of behavioral health care visits, with increasing use over time. For outpatient care, veterans receiving community care were more likely than those receiving VHA care to see clinicians with fewer years of training (SMD = 1.06). CONCLUSIONS: With a large portion of inpatient behavioral health care occurring in the community and increased use of outpatient behavioral health care with less highly trained community providers, coordination between VHA and the community is essential to provide appropriate inpatient follow-up care and address outpatient needs. This is especially critical given VHA''s expertise in providing behavioral health care to veterans and its legislative responsibility to ensure integrated care.

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