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Chang ET, Zulman DM, Nelson KM, et al. Use of General Primary Care, Specialized Primary Care, and Other Veterans Affairs Services Among High-Risk Veterans. JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(6):e208120. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.8120
Within the Veterans Health Administration, what is the role of general primary care, specialized primary care, mental health, and medical specialty services in caring for veterans at high risk for hospitalization?
In this cross-sectional study, veterans at high risk for hospitalization had significantly more mental health encounters than primary care encounters and significantly more primary care encounters than medical specialty encounters. Most high-risk veterans (88%) were cared for in general primary care rather than in specialized primary care.
The findings suggest that health care system leaders should recognize the critical roles of general primary care and mental health for high-risk patients.
Integrated health care systems increasingly focus on improving outcomes among patients at high risk for hospitalization. Examining patterns of where patients obtain care could give health care systems insight into how to develop approaches for high-risk patient care; however, such information is rarely described.
To assess use of general and specialized primary care, medical specialty, and mental health services among patients at high risk of hospitalization in the Veterans Health Administration (VHA).
Design, Setting, and Participants
This national, population-based, retrospective cross-sectional study included all veterans enrolled in any type of VHA primary care service as of September 30, 2015. Data analysis was performed from April 1, 2016, to January 1, 2019.
Risk of hospitalization and assignment to general vs specialized primary care.
Main Outcome and Measures
High-risk veterans were defined as those who had the 5% highest risk of near-term hospitalization based on a validated risk prediction model; all others were considered low risk. Health care service use was measured by the number of encounters in general primary care, specialized primary care, medical specialty, mental health, emergency department, and add-on intensive management services (eg, telehealth and palliative care).
The study assessed 4 309 192 veterans (mean [SD] age, 62.6 [16.0] years; 93% male). Male veterans (93%; odds ratio [OR], 1.11; 95% CI, 1.10-1.13), unmarried veterans (63%; OR, 2.30; 95% CI, 2.32-2.35), those older than 45 years (94%; 45-65 years of age: OR, 3.49 [95% CI, 3.44-3.54]; 66-75 years of age: OR, 3.04 [95% CI, 3.00-3.09]; and >75 years of age: OR, 2.42 [95% CI, 2.38-2.46]), black veterans (23%; OR, 1.63; 95% CI, 1.61-1.64), and those with medical comorbidities (asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: 33%; OR, 4.03 [95% CI, 4.00-4.06]; schizophrenia: 4%; OR, 5.14 [95% CI, 5.05-5.22]; depression: 42%; OR, 3.10 [95% CI, 3.08-3.13]; and alcohol abuse: 20%; OR, 4.54 [95% CI, 4.50-4.59]) were more likely to be high risk (n = 351 012). Most (308 433 [88%]) high-risk veterans were assigned to general primary care; the remaining 12% (42 579 of 363 561) were assigned to specialized primary care (eg, women’s health and homelessness). High-risk patients assigned to general primary care had more frequent primary care visits (mean [SD], 6.9 [6.5] per year) than those assigned to specialized primary care (mean [SD], 6.3 [7.3] per year; P < .001). They also had more medical specialty care visits (mean [SD], 4.4 [5.9] vs 3.7 [5.4] per year; P < .001) and fewer mental health visits (mean [SD], 9.0 [21.6] vs 11.3 [23.9] per year; P < .001). Use of intensive supplementary outpatient services was low overall.
Conclusions and Relevance
The findings suggest that, in integrated health care systems, approaches to support high-risk patient care should be embedded within general primary care and mental health care if they are to improve outcomes for high-risk patient populations.
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