Characteristics and behavioral health needs of patients with patterns of high hospital use: implications for primary care providers.

Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

BMC health services research [electronic resource]


Behavioral health; Care coordination; Complex care; Integrated care; Primary health care; Substance use; Vulnerable populations


BACKGROUND: A small percentage of patients relies extensively on hospital-based care and account for a disproportionately high share of health care spending in the United States. Evidence shows that behavioral health conditions are common among these individuals, but understanding of their behavioral health needs is limited. This study aimed to understand the behavioral health characteristics and needs of patients with high hospital utilization patterns in Camden, New Jersey.

METHODS: The sample consisted of patients in a care management intervention for individuals with patterns of high hospital utilization who were referred for behavioral health assessments (N = 195). A clinical psychologist conducted the assessments, which informed a multiaxial evaluation with diagnostic criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and a Mental Status Examination, to facilitate accurate diagnosis. Demographic characteristics, housing instability, exposure to trauma, and health care service utilization data were also collected through self-report and chart reviews.

RESULTS: Ninety percent of patients were diagnosed with a psychiatric and/or active substance use disorder. Depression was the most common psychiatric disorder and alcohol use was the most common substance use disorder. However, only 10% of patients with an active substance use disorder were in treatment, and only 17% of patients with a mental health diagnosis were receiving mental health treatment. Nearly all (91%) patients reported having a primary care provider at the time of assessment and most had seen their primary care provider within three months of their last hospital discharge. Non-medical barriers to health and wellness, specifically housing instability and exposure to trauma, were also common (35 and 61% of patients, respectively) among patients.

CONCLUSION: Findings highlight the importance of identifying and treating patients with behavioral health needs in the primary care setting. Developing connections with community agencies who provide behavioral health and substance use treatment can enhance primary care providers' efforts to address their patients' non-medical barriers to treatment, as can embedding behavioral health providers within primary care offices. The study also underscores the need for trauma-informed care in primary care settings.

Clinical Institute

Mental Health


Behavioral Health


Primary Care