Objective: The substantial failure of psychiatric patients to engage in outpatient specialty mental health care after an acute hospitalization at a time when managed care companies and others increasingly hold hospitals accountable for outcomes underscores the importance of identifying patients at high risk for not completing referrals. This study explored patient risk factors for not completing referrals and examined the success of several interventions targeted to achieving linkage with outpatient care.
Method: A clinically detailed, structured form was used in abstracting information from the medical records of 229 inpatients with a primary psychiatric diagnosis. Clinicians and staff at outpatient programs were contacted to determine whether patients completed their referrals.
Results: Approximately two-thirds (65%) of the patients failed to attend scheduled or rescheduled initial outpatient mental health appointments after a hospital discharge. At high risk for unsuccessful linkage to outpatient care were patients with a persistent mental illness and those who had no prior public psychiatric hospitalization, were admitted involuntarily, and had longer lengths of stay. Controlling for risk factors, three clinical interventions used during the hospital stay more than tripled the odds of successful linkage to outpatient care: communication about patients' discharge plans between inpatient staff and outpatient clinicians, patients' starting outpatient programs before discharge, and family involvement during the hospital stay.
Conclusions: Effective clinical bridging strategies can be used to avoid unnecessary gaps in the delivery of psychiatric services. Incorporating these strategies into routine care would enhance continuity of care, especially for some high-risk patients.