Many studies of compulsory community treatment have assessed their effect early on after the implementation of legislation. Although compulsory community treatment may not prevent readmission to hospital, there is evidence of an effect on length of stay before and after the intervention when compared to controls. This paper examines whether outcomes change as clinicians gain experience in the use of community treatment orders (CTOs). Cases and controls from three linked Western Australian databases were matched on age, sex, diagnosis and time of hospital discharge or community placement. We compared changes in bed-days and outpatient visits of CTO cases and controls using multivariate analyses to further control for confounders. We identified 2958 CTO cases and controls from November 1997 to December 2008 (total n = 5916). The average age was 37 years and 64% were male. Schizophrenia and other non-affective psychoses were the commonest diagnoses (73%). CTO placement was associated with a mean decrease of 5 bed-days from before the order when compared to controls (B = -5.23, s.e. = 1.60, t = -3.26, p < 0.001). There was an increase of 8 days in outpatient contacts (B = 8.31, s.e. = 1.17, t = 7.11, p < 0.001). There was little change in CTO use and outcomes over the 11 years. Compared to controls, CTOs may therefore reduce lengths of stay from before placement on the order. They also increase outpatient contacts. This study illustrates the importance of selecting an outcome that directly addresses the objective of the intervention.
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