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J Ment Health Policy Econ. 2003 Sep;6(3):113-21.

Benchmarking the quality of schizophrenia pharmacotherapy: a comparison of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the private sector.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, Yale School of Medicine, VA Connecticut Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center, West Haven VAMC, West Haven, CT 06516, USA.



Comparing quality of care between large health care systems is important for health systems management. This study used measures of the quality of pharmacotherapy for patients with schizophrenia and compared these measures across a sample of patients from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the private sector.


A random sample of all patients diagnosed with schizophrenia in the VA during fiscal year (FY) 2000 was identified using administrative data. In the private sector, a sample of patients diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2000 was identified using MEDSTAT's MarketScan database. For both groups, use of antipsychotic medications was studied and measures of the quality of pharmacotherapy were constructed, including whether patients were prescribed any antipsychotic medication, one of the newer atypical antipsychotics, and whether dosing adhered to established treatment recommendations. These measures were compared across the two groups using logistic regression models, controlling for age, gender, and comorbid diagnoses.


Most patients with a diagnosis of schizophrenia (82% in the VA and 73% in the private sector) received an antipsychotic medication, usually one of the newer atypical drugs. Patients in the VA were more likely to be dosed above treatment recommendations, and less likely to be dosed below treatment recommendations. Overall, differences in proportion schizophrenia patients dosed according to recommendations were not statistically different across the two systems (60% in the VA, 58% in the private sector).


Differences between the two systems were mixed, with the VA outperforming the private sector with respect to some measures and doing worse on others.


Although the VA and the private sector were comparable with respect to the quality measures used in this study, there is room for improvement in both systems. Treatment recommendations are based on the best available clinical evidence of effectiveness and safety. Quality of care might be improved with better adherence to these recommendations.


Relatively low rates of adherence to treatment recommendations may be due to lack of awareness of these recommendations among prescribing physicians, or a belief that the recommendations are inadequate. To the extent that low rates of adherence to treatment recommendations are caused by a lack of awareness among physicians, policies should be developed to disseminate this information and encourage the appropriate use of these medications.


Further research is needed to understand physician prescribing decisions for these medications. To the extent that physicians feel treatment recommendations for these drugs are inadequate, further research is needed to refine the recommendations.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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