Military Health System must provide better follow-up care for troops at risk for suicide, report says

Patient and nurse in hospital
A new report finds that less than half of service members receive an adequate amount of initial care when beginning treatment for PTSD or depression.

Although the Military Health System does a good job at screening troops for suicide risk and substance abuse, a new report finds it fails to provide the necessary follow-up care for service members at high risk for suicide.

The new report by Rand Corp. assessed care delivered by the MHS from 2013-2014 for more than 38,000 active component service members diagnosed with depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. The good news is that the MHS is a leader in achieving high rates of follow-up care after psychiatric hospitalizations. But researchers found that less than half of service members receive an adequate amount of initial care when beginning treatment for PTSD or depression.

The research also found that service members with PTSD or depression use a high volume of health services and see multiple providers, suggesting the need to ensure coordination of care. And the quality of care varied depending on the service branch.

“We’re seeing some movement in a positive direction,” Kimberly Hepner, lead author and a senior behavioral scientist at the nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization, told USA Today. “But we believe that behavioral healthcare needs more attention.”

The most immediate action needed, she told the publication, is to remove access to firearms to help reduce the risk of suicide attempts.

The report also suggested that MHS expand efforts to monitor and use treatment outcomes for service members with psychological health conditions.

All healthcare providers need to take action regarding suicide prevention. The Joint Commission last year issued an alert for providers that identified steps they should take when they detect a patient may be at risk for suicide. Among the suggestions: keep patients in acute suicidal crisis in a safe healthcare environment with one-to-one observation, directly refer patients at lower suicide risk to outpatient behavioral health for follow-up care within a week of assessment, and provide all at-risk patients and their family members with the number of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800) 273-TALK.