Veterans Health Administration Investments In Primary Care And Mental Health Integration Improved Care Access

Aiming to increase care access, the national Primary Care–Mental Health Integration (PC-MHI) initiative of the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) embedded specialists, care managers, or both in primary care clinics to collaboratively care for veterans with psychiatric illness. The initiative’s effects on health care use and cost patterns were examined among 5.4 million primary care patients in 396 VHA clinics in 2013–16. The median rate of patients who saw a PC-MHI provider was 6.3 percent. Each percentage-point increase in the proportion of clinic patients seen by these providers was associated with 11 percent more mental health and 40 percent more primary care visits but also with 9 percent higher average total costs per patient per year. At the mean, 2.5 integrated care visits substituted for each specialty-based mental health visit that did not occur. PC-MHI was associated with improved access to outpatient care, albeit at increased total cost to the VHA. Successful implementation of integrated care necessitates significant investment and multidisciplinary partnership within health systems.

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