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A core question in the debate about how to organise mental healthcare is whether in- and out-patient treatment should be provided by the same (personal continuity) or different psychiatrists (specialisation). The controversial debate drives costly organisational changes in several European countries, which have gone in opposing directions. The existing evidence is based on small and low-quality studies which tend to favour whatever the new experimental organisation is.
We compared 1-year clinical outcomes of personal continuity and specialisation in routine care in a large scale study across five European countries.
This is a 1-year prospective natural experiment conducted in Belgium, England, Germany, Italy and Poland. In all these countries, both personal continuity and specialisation exist in routine care. Eligible patients were admitted for psychiatric in-patient treatment (18 years of age), and clinically diagnosed with a psychotic, mood or anxiety/somatisation disorder.
Outcomes were assessed 1 year after the index admission. The primary outcome was re-hospitalisation and analysed for the full sample and subgroups defined by country, and different socio-demographic and clinical criteria. Secondary outcomes were total number of inpatient days, involuntary re-admissions, adverse events and patients’ social situation. Outcomes were compared through mixed regression models in intention-to-treat analyses. The study is registered (ISRCTN40256812).
We consecutively recruited 7302 patients; 6369 (87.2%) were followed-up. No statistically significant differences were found in re-hospitalisation, neither overall (adjusted percentages: 38.9% in personal continuity, 37.1% in specialisation; odds ratio = 1.08; confidence interval 0.94–1.25; p = 0.28) nor for any of the considered subgroups. There were no significant differences in any of the secondary outcomes.
Whether the same or different psychiatrists provide in- and out-patient treatment appears to have no substantial impact on patient outcomes over a 1-year period. Initiatives to improve long-term outcomes of psychiatric patients may focus on aspects other than the organisation of personal continuity v. specialisation.
Debate exists as to whether functional care, in which different psychiatrists are responsible for in- and out-patient care, leads to better in-patient treatment as compared with sectorised care, in which the same psychiatrist is responsible for care across settings.
To compare patient satisfaction with in-patient treatment and length of stay in functional and sectorised care.
Patients with an ICD-10 diagnosis of psychotic, affective or anxiety/somatoform disorders consecutively admitted to an adult acute psychiatric ward in 23 hospitals across 11 National Health Service trusts in England were recruited. Patient satisfaction with in-patient care and length of stay (LoS) were compared (trial registration ISRCTN40256812).
In total, 2709 patients were included, of which 1612 received functional and 1097 sectorised care. Patient satisfaction was significantly higher in sectorised care (β = 0.54, 95% CI 0.35–0.73, P<0.001). This difference remained significant when adjusting for locality and patient characteristics. LoS was 6.9 days shorter for patients in sectorised care (β = −6.89, 95% CI –11.76 to −2.02, P<0.001), but this difference did not remain significant when adjusting for clustering by hospital (β = −4.89, 95% CI –13.34 to 3.56, P = 0.26).
This is the first robust evidence that patient satisfaction with in-patient treatment is higher in sectorised care, whereas findings for LoS are less conclusive. If patient satisfaction is seen as a key criterion, sectorised care seems preferable.
Declarations of interest
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