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Temporal trends in mental health service utilization across outpatient and acute care sectors: a population-based study from 2006 to 2014

Chiu M, Gatov E, Vigod SN, Amartey A, Saunders NR, Yao Z, Pequeno P, Kurdyak P. Can J Psychiatry. 2018; Jan 1 [Epub ahead of print].


Objective — Although evidence suggests that treatment seeking for mental illness has increased over time, little is known about how the health system is meeting the increasing demand for services. We examined trends in physician-based mental health service use across multiple sectors.

Method — In this population-based study, we used linked health-administrative databases to measure annual rates of mental health–related outpatient physician visits to family physicians and psychiatrists, emergency department visits, and hospitalizations in adults aged 16+ from 2006 to 2014. We examined absolute and relative changes in visit rates, number of patients, and frequency of visits per patient, and assessed temporal trends using linear regressions.

Results — Among approximately 11 million Ontario adults, age- and sex-standardized rates of mental health–related outpatient physician visits declined from 604.8 to 565.5 per 1000 population over the study period (Ptrend = 0.04). Over time, the rate of visits to family physicians/general practitioners remained stable (Ptrend = 0.12); the number of individuals served decreased, but the number of visits per patient increased. The rate of visits to psychiatrists declined (Ptrend < 0.001); the number of individuals served increased, but the number of visits per patient decreased. Concurrently, visit rates to emergency departments and hospitals increased (16.1 to 19.7, Ptrend < 0.001 and 5.6 to 6.0, Ptrend = 0.01, per 1000 population, respectively). Increases in acute care service use were greatest for anxiety and addictions.

Conclusions — The increasing acute care service use coupled with the reduction in outpatient visits suggest, overall, an increase in demand for mental health care that is not being met in ambulatory care settings.

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