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US Veterans With Heart Disease and Depression Face Difficulties Affording Healthcare

Puja Parikh, MD
Puja Parikh, MD, MPH

Stony Brook, NY, April 19, 2017 – A study of more than 13,000 veterans with heart disease revealed that for those who also had depression, gaining access to and affording healthcare and medications is more difficult than those without depression. Led by Puja Parikh, MD, MPH, an interventional cardiologist at the Stony Brook University Heart Institute, the study findings magnify the importance of assessing issues related to veterans with heart disease and concomitant mental health disease.

The researchers presented their findings at the American Heart Association’s Quality of Care and Outcomes Research 2017 Scientific Sessions. They used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2013 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey of 13,126 veterans who reported being told they had a heart attack, stroke, angina, or coronary artery disease by a health professional.

Of the patients with heart disease, 22 percent reported having also been diagnosed with depression. Compared with veteran heart patients without depression, those with depression were older with more chronic medical illnesses, including high blood pressure, kidney disease, obesity, and smoking. They were also twice as likely to report difficulty affording medical care; twice as likely to report delays in medical care; and 45 percent more likely to report difficulty with affording prescription drugs.

Data obtained from this study was via a telephone call to participants. The survey did not discern whether the veterans received care at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities or other non-VA facilities. Data about the veteran participants in this study came from the participants’ own responses, rather than from medical records.

“All healthcare providers who treat veterans with depression should routinely ask their patients about any difficulty with being able to pay for medical care or medications,” said Dr. Parikh, Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of Cardiology and Director of Invasive Cardiology at the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

For such veterans who have such problems affording healthcare, Dr. Parikh recommends that in some cases less expensive medications can be considered. Additionally, she suggests healthcare professionals caring for veterans work with a social worker to obtain vouchers or coupons from pharmaceutical companies to get further financial assistance with their medical costs.

“Further, VA-based research could shed more light on how mental illness affects heart disease care for veterans,” Dr. Parikh said “Also, future national surveys could include other mental health diagnoses that impact veterans, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).”

Co-authors of the study include Pallavi Srivastava, MBBS, MPH; Javed Butler, MD, MPH; Matthew Lacey, BS; and A. Laurie Shroyer, PhD, MSHA. 

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About Stony Brook University Heart Institute:

Stony Brook University Heart Institute is located within Stony Brook University Hospital as part of Long Island's premier university-based medical center. The Heart Institute offers a comprehensive, multidisciplinary program for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular disease. The staff includes 50 full-time and community-based, board-certified cardiologists and cardiothoracic surgeons, as well as 350 specially trained anesthesiologists, nurses, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, respiratory therapists, surgical technologists, perfusionists, and other support staff. Their combined expertise provides state-of-the-art interventional and surgical capabilities in 24-hour cardiac catheterization labs and surgical suites. And while the Heart Institute clinical staff offers the latest advances in medicine, its physician-scientists are also actively enhancing knowledge of the heart and blood vessels through basic biomedical studies and clinical research. To learn more, visit www.heart.stonybrookmedicine.edu.