AIMS AND OBJECTIVES: To evaluate a feasible, best practice mental health screening and referral clinical pathway for generalist community nursing care of war veterans and war widow(er)s in Australia.
BACKGROUND: War veterans commonly experience mental health difficulties and do not always receive required treatment, as can also occur for war widow(er)s. Whenever opportunity arises, such as during community nursing care, it is vital to identify mental health problems in a health promotion framework.
DESIGN: A clinical pathway was developed by literature review and consultation and then trialled and evaluated using mixed methods--quantitative and qualitative.
METHODS: Community nurses who trialled the pathway completed an evaluation survey and attended focus groups. General practitioners responded to an evaluation survey.
RESULTS: Most nurses found the pathway clear and easy to understand but not always easy to use. They emphasised the need to establish trust and rapport with clients prior to implementing the pathway. It was sometimes difficult to ensure effective referral to general practitioners for clients who screened positive for a mental health problem. When referral was accomplished, general practitioners reported adequate and useful information was provided. Some general practitioners also commented on the difficulty of achieving effective communication between general practitioners and nurses.
CONCLUSIONS: Nurses and some general practitioners found the pathway useful for their practice. They offered several suggestions for improvement by simplifying the trialled pathway and accompanying guidelines and strategies to improve communication between nurses and general practitioners. This study adds understanding of how community nurses might productively screen for mental health difficulties.
RELEVANCE TO CLINICAL PRACTICE: The trialled pathway, which was modified and refined following the study, is an evidence-based resource for community nurses in Australia and similar contexts to guide practise and maximise holistic care for war veterans and war widow(er)s and possibly other client groups.