Societies strive for fast-delivered, evidence-based and need-oriented depression treatment within budget constraints. To explore potential improvements, selective contracts can be implemented. Here, we evaluate if the German collaborative psychiatry-neurology-psychotherapy contract (PNP), which extends the gatekeeping-based general practitioner (GP) program, improved guideline adherence or need-oriented and timely access to psychotherapy compared to usual care (UC).
We conducted a retrospective observational cohort study based on health insurance claims data. After we identified patients with depression who were on sick leave due to a mental disorder in 2015, we applied entropy balancing to adjust for selection effects and employed chi-squared tests to compare guideline adherence of the received treatment between PNP, the GP program and UC. Subsequently, we applied an extended cox regression to assess need-orientation by comparing the relationship between accumulated sick leave days and waiting times for psychotherapy across health plans.
N = 23,245 patients were included. Regarding guideline adherence, we found no significant differences for most severity subgroups; except that patients with a first moderate depressive episode received antidepressants or psychotherapy more often in UC. Regarding need-orientation, we observed that the effect of each additional month of sick leave on the likelihood of starting psychotherapy was increased by 6% in PNP compared to UC.
Irrespective of the health plan, we found that within the first 12 months only between 24.3 and 39.7% (depending on depression severity) received at least 10 psychotherapy sessions or adequate pharmacotherapy.
The PNP contract strengthens the relationship between sick leave days and the delay until the beginning of psychotherapy, which suggests improvements in terms of need-oriented access to care. However, we found no indication for increased guideline adherence and – independent of the health plan – a gap in sufficient utilization of adequate treatment options.