Examining primary health care for patients with mental illness

Doctor measuring blood pressure of patient
Doctor measuring blood pressure of patient

For those living with serious mental illness, ensuring primary care providers do not overlook their chronic health problems is essential because hospitalization and, even, death from chronic health issues is a real risk. In fact, people with serious mental illness live lives that are 30% shorter than the rest of the population.

A uOttawa-led research project titled “Primary Care for Individuals with Serious Mental Illness” is receiving nearly $1 million in funding over five years from the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) to examine how primary care providers can offer better primary health care for people living with serious mental illness. The researchers hope their analysis will better explain the primary health care experience of this population group, what types of primary care service this population uses, and how to improve the primary care system.

Agnes Grudniewicz

“People living with serious mental illness may need more primary care services than the general population, yet this medical requirement is rarely met,” says Agnes Grudniewicz, an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management who is leading the five-year study focusing on people who have been hospitalized from a mental illness with a primary care provider in either Ontario or British Columbia.

“People living with serious mental illnesses receive fewer health services than the general public and often services of lower quality.”

The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic is certain to put a strain on access to primary care services – which includes family doctors and nurse practitioners – for everyone. The researchers hope their analysis will better explain how people living with severe mental health illness experience primary health care, and what types of primary care service this population uses. It will also shed light on the problem from the perspectives of primary care providers, while looking to see if recent provincial reforms will improve outcomes for people with serious mental illness.

Insights could help health organizations and health officials better understand what encourages people with mental illnesses to receive the appropriate care to treat their chronic illnesses, as well as what prevents them from receiving primary care services at the right time. The researchers also plan to explore how recent policy changes may have impacted these patients’ use of primary care service.

Grudniewicz, recently awarded funding to research what virtual service delivery for low socioeconomic communities will look like because of the coronavirus, is leading a multidisciplinary team of researchers, who are collaborating with the Ministry of Health of Ontario and British Columbia, respectively, The Royal, the Queensway Carleton Hospital, and The Ottawa Hospital.


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