News Release: Research

Dec. 21,  2009

Care Management Improves Physical Health of Patients with Mental Illness

Connecting mental health patients with care managers responsible for coordinating their health care significantly improves their overall health and wellbeing, according to a study by Emory University public health researchers.

The study, the first of its kind, tested a population-based medical care management intervention aimed at improving medical care in community mental health settings. Recent studies show that people with severe mental illness die 25 years younger than the general population largely due to medical causes such as heart attacks.

"There is a growing concern about the epidemic of premature morbidity and mortality among persons with serious mental illnesses," says lead study author Benjamin Druss, MD, MPH, professor of health policy and management and the Rosalynn Carter Chair in Mental Health at Emory's Rollins School of Public Health. "This model provides one of the first evidence-based approaches for addressing that problem by helping patients access high-quality medical care."

A total of 407 people with severe mental illness at an urban community mental health center were randomly assigned to either the medical care management intervention or usual care. The patients were all ages 18 and older, considered economically disadvantaged, and experienced serious and persistent mental illness.

For individuals in the intervention group, care managers provided communication and advocacy with medical providers, health education and support in overcoming system-level fragmentation and barriers to primary medical care. Patients in the usual care group were given a list with contact information for local primary care medical clinics and were permitted to obtain any type of medical care or other medical services without the assistance of a care manager.

At a 12-month follow-up evaluation, researchers found that medical care management was associated with significant improvements in the quality and outcomes of primary care. The intervention group received an average of 58.7 percent of recommended preventive services compared with a rate of 21.8 percent in the usual care group.

In addition, patients in the intervention group received a significantly higher proportion of evidence-based services for cardiometabolic conditions (34.9 percent versus 27.7 percent) and were more likely to have a primary care provider (71.2 percent versus 51.9 percent). The group showed significant improvement in mental health functioning, and at one-year follow-up, had a substantially lower risk for heart disease than those in the usual care group.

These findings suggest that care management is a promising approach for improving quality and outcomes of medical care for patients with serious mental illnesses, says Druss.

The study titled, "A randomized trial of medical care management for community mental health settings: The Primary Care Access, Referral, and Evaluation (PCARE) study," was published in the Dec. 15 online edition of The American Journal of Psychiatry. It was funded by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health.

In addition to Druss, study authors were: Silke Von Esenwein, PhD, director of research projects, Kimberly Rask, MD, PhD, associate professor of health policy and management, and Liping Zhao, MSPH, senior biostatistician, of the Rollins School of Public Health; and Michael Compton, MD, MPH, assistant professor of psychiatry and Ruth Parker, MD, professor of medicine, of the Emory School of Medicine.

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