Primary care after psychiatric crisis: a qualitative analysis

Ann Fam Med. 2008 Jan-Feb;6(1):38-43. doi: 10.1370/afm.760.


Purpose: Patients with serious psychiatric problems experience difficulty accessing primary care. The goals of this study were to assess whether care managers improved access and to understand patients' experiences with health care after a psychiatric crisis.

Methods: A total of 175 consecutive patients seeking care in a psychiatric emergency department were randomly assigned to an intervention group with care managers or a control group. Brief, semistructured interviews about health care encounters were conducted at baseline and 1 year later. Five raters, using the content-driven, immersion-crystallization approach, analyzed 112 baseline and year-end interviews from 28 participants in each group. The main outcomes were patients' responses about their care experiences, connections with primary care, and integration of medical and mental health care. Scores for physical function and mental function were compared by analysis of variance (ANOVA).

Results: At baseline, most participants described negative experiences in receiving care and emphasized the importance of listening, sensitivity, and respect. Fully 71% of patients in the intervention group said that having a care manager to assist them with primary care connections was beneficial. Patients in the intervention group had significantly better physical and mental function than their counterparts in the control group at 6 months (P = .03 for each) but not at 12 months. There was also a trend toward functional improvement over the course of the study in the intervention group.

Conclusions: This analysis suggests that care management is effective in helping patients access primary care after a psychiatric crisis. It provides evidence on and insight into how care may be delivered more effectively for this population. Future work should assess the sustainability of care connections and longer-term patient health outcomes.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Comorbidity
  • Delivery of Health Care, Integrated / methods
  • Delivery of Health Care, Integrated / organization & administration
  • Emergency Services, Psychiatric / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility / statistics & numerical data
  • Healthcare Disparities
  • Humans
  • Interprofessional Relations
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Mentally Ill Persons / psychology*
  • Mentally Ill Persons / statistics & numerical data
  • Middle Aged
  • Outcome and Process Assessment, Health Care
  • Patient Care Management / statistics & numerical data*
  • Patient Satisfaction*
  • Primary Health Care / organization & administration*
  • Primary Health Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Qualitative Research