Objective: Previous research has shown relatively high use of out-of-network mental health providers, although direct comparisons with rates among general health providers are not available. We aimed to (1) estimate the proportion of privately insured adults using an out-of-network mental health provider in the past 12 months; (2) compare rates of out-of-network mental health provider use with out-of-network general medical use; (3) determine reasons for out-of-network mental health care use.
Methods: A nationally representative sample of privately insured US adults was surveyed using the internet in February 2011. Screener questions identified if the participant had used either a general medical physician or a mental health professional within the past 12 months. Respondents using either type of out-of-network provider completed a 10-minute survey on details of their out-of-network care experiences.
Results: Eighteen percent of individuals who used a mental health provider reported at least 1 contact with an out-of-network mental health provider, compared to 6.8% who used a general health provider (P<0.01). The most common reasons for choosing an out-of-network mental health provider were the physician was recommended (26.1%), continuity with a previously known provider (23.7%), and the perceived skill of the provider (19.3%).
Conclusions: Out-of-network provider use is more likely in mental health care than general health care. Most respondents chose an out-of-network mental health provider based on perceived provider quality or continuing care with a previously known provider rather than issues related to the availability of an in-network provider, convenient location, or appointment wait time.