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Veteran Perspectives on Population-Based Suicide Risk Screening in VHA Primary Care: Mixed-Methods Study.

Denneson LM, Newell S, Elliott V, Rynerson A, Niederhausen M, Salvi A, Handley R, Bahraini N, Post EP, Carlson KF, Dobscha SK. Veteran Perspectives on Population-Based Suicide Risk Screening in VHA Primary Care: Mixed-Methods Study. Journal of general internal medicine. 2023 Aug 1; 38(11):2537-2545.

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BACKGROUND: In late 2018, VHA implemented a multi-stage suicide risk screening and evaluation initiative, Suicide Risk Identification Strategy, or "Risk ID," in primary care settings. OBJECTIVE: The main objective of this study was to characterize VHA primary care patient perspectives regarding population-based suicide risk screening through the Risk ID program. DESIGN: Mixed methods; survey and qualitative interviews. PARTICIPANTS: Veterans screened for suicide risk using Risk ID in primary care (n? = 868) participated in a survey of veteran attitudes about screening (45% response rate); thirty additionally participated in follow-up qualitative interviews. MAIN MEASURES: The quantitative survey consisted of three questions on attitudes about screening for suicidal thoughts in primary care. In qualitative interviews, veterans were asked about their experiences with the Risk ID processes and recommendations for improving Risk ID. KEY RESULTS: Over 90% of veterans reported that it is appropriate for primary care providers or nurses/medical assistants to ask veterans about thoughts of suicide during primary care visits. Approximately half of veterans indicated that veterans should be asked about suicidal thoughts at every visit. Qualitative findings revealed that while most veterans were generally supportive and appreciated VHA screening for suicidal thoughts, they also expressed concern for the potential for inadvertent harm. Participants expressed conflicting preferences for how screening should be handled and delivered. CONCLUSIONS: Findings suggest that most veterans support the integration of standardized suicide risk assessment into routine primary care visits. However, findings also suggest that population-based suicide risk assessment should further consider patient experiences and preferences. Specifically, additional guidance or training for staff conducting suicide risk screening may be warranted to ensure patients feel heard (e.g., eye contact, expressing empathy) and increase patient understanding of the purpose of the screening and potential outcomes. These patient-centered approaches may improve patient experience and facilitate disclosure of suicidal thoughts.

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