Telemedicine-Based Collaborative Care for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Randomized Clinical Trial

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Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is prevalent, persistent, and disabling. Although psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy have proven efficacious in randomized clinical trials, geographic barriers impede rural veterans from engaging in these evidence-based treatments.


To test a telemedicine-based collaborative care model designed to improve engagement in evidence-based treatment of PTSD.


The Telemedicine Outreach for PTSD (TOP) study used a pragmatic randomized effectiveness trial design with intention-to-treat analyses. Outpatients were recruited from 11 Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) community-based outpatient clinics serving predominantly rural veterans. Inclusion required meeting diagnostic criteria for current PTSD according to the Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale. Exclusion criteria included receiving PTSD treatment at a VA medical center or a current diagnosis of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or substance dependence. Two hundred sixty-five veterans were enrolled from November 23, 2009, through September 28, 2011, randomized to usual care (UC) or the TOP intervention, and followed up for 12 months.


Off-site PTSD care teams located at VA medical centers supported on-site community-based outpatient clinic providers. Off-site PTSD care teams included telephone nurse care managers, telephone pharmacists, telepsychologists, and telepsychiatrists. Nurses conducted care management activities. Pharmacists reviewed medication histories. Psychologists delivered cognitive processing therapy via interactive video. Psychiatrists supervised the team and conducted interactive video psychiatric consultations.


The primary outcome was PTSD severity as measured by the Posttraumatic Diagnostic Scale. Process-of-care outcomes included medication prescribing and regimen adherence and initiation of and adherence to cognitive processing therapy.


During the 12-month follow-up period, 73 of the 133 patients randomized to TOP (54.9%) received cognitive processing therapy compared with 16 of 132 randomized to UC (12.1%) (odds ratio, 18.08 [95% CI, 7.96-41.06]; P < .001). Patients in the TOP arm had significantly larger decreases in Posttraumatic Diagnostic Scale scores (from 35.0 to 29.1) compared with those in the UC arm (from 33.5 to 32.1) at 6 months (β = −3.81; P = .002). Patients in the TOP arm also had significantly larger decreases in Posttraumatic Diagnostic Scale scores (from 35.0 to 30.1) compared with those in the UC arm (from 33.5 to 31.7) at 12 months (β = −2.49; P=.04). There were no significant group differences in the number of PTSD medications prescribed and adherence to medication regimens were not significant. Attendance at 8 or more sessions of cognitive processing therapy significantly predicted improvement in Posttraumatic Diagnostic Scale scores (β = −3.86 [95% CI, −7.19 to −0.54]; P = .02) and fully mediated the intervention effect at 12 months.


Telemedicine-based collaborative care can successfully engage rural veterans in evidence-based psychotherapy to improve PTSD outcomes.

TRIAL REGISTRATION Identifier: NCT00821678

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