Perceived access to general and mental healthcare in primary care in Colombia during COVID-19: A cross-sectional study

Front Public Health. 2022 Sep 7:10:896318. doi: 10.3389/fpubh.2022.896318. eCollection 2022.


Introduction: The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact both in general and mental healthcare, challenged the health systems worldwide, and affected their capacity to deliver essential health services. We aimed to describe perceived changes in ease of access to general and mental healthcare among patients with a diagnosis of depression and/or unhealthy alcohol use in Colombia.

Methods: This study is embedded in the DIADA project, a multicenter implementation research study aimed at evaluating the integration of mental healthcare in primary care in Colombia. Between November 2020 and August 2021, we conducted a COVID-19 pandemic impact assessment in a cohort of participants with newly diagnosed depression and/or unhealthy alcohol use part of DIADA project. We assessed the ease of access and factors related to perceived ease of access to general or mental healthcare, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Results: 836 participants completed the COVID-19 pandemic impact assessment. About 30% of participants considered their mental health to be worse during the pandemic and 84.3% perceived access to general healthcare to be worse during the pandemic. Most of participants (85.8%) were unable to assess access to mental health services, but a significant proportion considered it to be worse. Experiencing worse ease of access to general healthcare was more frequent among women, patients with diagnosis of depression, and patients with comorbidities. Experiencing worse ease of access to mental healthcare was more frequent among patients aged between 30 and 49.9 years, from socioeconomic status between 4 and 6, affiliated to the contributive social security regime, attending urban study sites, and those who perceived their mental health was worse during the pandemic.

Discussion: Despite the overall perception of worse mental health during the pandemic, the use of mental healthcare was low compared to general healthcare. Ease of access was perceived to be worse compared to pre-pandemic. Ease of access and access were affected by geographical study site, socioeconomic status, age and gender. Our findings highlight the need for improved communication between patients and institutions, tailored strategies to adapt the healthcare provision to patients' characteristics, and continued efforts to strengthen the role of mental healthcare provision in primary care.

Keywords: COVID-19; depression; healthcare access; mental health; mental healthcare; primary health care; unhealthy alcohol use.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Colombia / epidemiology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mental Health Services*
  • Middle Aged
  • Pandemics
  • Primary Health Care