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Am J Psychiatry. 2004 Aug;161(8):1455-62.

Improving access to geriatric mental health services: a randomized trial comparing treatment engagement with integrated versus enhanced referral care for depression, anxiety, and at-risk alcohol use.

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Department of Psychiatry, Dartmouth Medical School, Lebanon, NH, USA.



The authors sought to determine whether integrated mental health services or enhanced referral to specialty mental health clinics results in greater engagement in mental health/substance abuse services by older primary care patients.


This multisite randomized trial included 10 sites consisting of primary care and specialty mental health/substance abuse clinics. Primary care patients 65 years old or older (N=24,930) were screened. The final study group consisted of 2,022 patients (mean age=73.5 years; 26% female; 48% ethnic minority) with depression (N=1,390), anxiety (N=70), at-risk alcohol use (N=414), or dual diagnosis (N=148) who were randomly assigned to integrated care (mental health and substance abuse providers co-located in primary care; N=999) or enhanced referral to specialty mental health/substance abuse clinics (i.e., facilitated scheduling, transportation, payment; N=1,023).


Seventy-one percent of patients engaged in treatment in the integrated model compared with 49% in the enhanced referral model. Integrated care was associated with more mental health and substance abuse visits per patient (mean=3.04) relative to enhanced referral (mean=1.91). Overall, greater engagement was predicted by integrated care and higher mental distress. For depression, greater engagement was predicted by integrated care and more severe depression. For at-risk alcohol users, greater engagement was predicted by integrated care and more severe problem drinking. For all conditions, greater engagement was associated with closer proximity of mental health/substance abuse services to primary care.


Older primary care patients are more likely to accept collaborative mental health treatment within primary care than in mental health/substance abuse clinics. These results suggest that integrated service arrangements improve access to mental health and substance abuse services for older adults who underuse these services.

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