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5 Clinical Tools Help Diagnose, Treat PTSD

Health care providers have much to consider when diagnosing and treating PTSD, to help five tools have been developed to assist with clinical support.

Health care providers have much to consider when diagnosing and treating posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in service members and veterans. To assist them, Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE), in collaboration with Department of Defense (DoD) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), developed five provider and patient PTSD clinical support tools.

These resources offer quick tips, insights and recommendations on proper screening, diagnosis, treatment, referral, and patient and family education. Released last summer, they support guidance based on the current VA/DoD Clinical Practice Guideline for the Management of Post-traumatic Stress.

“These tools help primary care providers care for and treat service members and veterans diagnosed with PTSD and related conditions,” said Cmdr. Angela Williams-Steele, clinical psychologist and chief of evidence-based practices at Deployment Health Clinical Center, a DCoE center.

The resource suite includes tools to support health care providers and clinic managers, as well as patients and family members.

“Because we know how important it is to educate patients and family members, we included a tool just for them — to help them better understand symptoms, diagnosis, available treatments and the impact PTSD can have on families,” said Williams-Steele.

What’s inside? The suite includes three provider tools, and one patient and one family tool.

1. VA/DoD Essentials for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Provider Tool — a step-by-step tool created to help health care providers properly screen and assess, diagnose and care for patients experiencing post-traumatic stress conditions, including combat and operational stress reaction, acute stress reaction, acute stress disorder, or acute and chronic posttraumatic stress disorder. Learn how to:

--Screen and assess. Screen all new patients for symptoms of PTSD using a validated tool. This section identifies tools that can be used to assist in diagnosing PTSD such as the Primary Care PTSD Screen, which initiates care based on how patients answer four questions.

--Set expectations for recovery. After a PTSD diagnosis, patients need educational information that encourages positive and simple strategies to cope with symptoms and problems that may develop during recovery.

--Explain evidence-based psychotherapies. This section reviews effective treatments for PTSD including psychotherapies and medications.

--Refer. Use this checklist when considering a referral to specialty care.

2. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Pocket Guide — a quick reference tool for treating patients with PTSD and related conditions. It’s divided into the following sections:

--Initial evaluation and triage

--Acute stress reaction

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--Combat and operational stress reaction

--Acute stress disorder

--Assessment and diagnosis of PTSD

--Management of PTSD

--Medication tables

--Additional tools and resources

3. Understanding Posttraumatic Stress Disorder — an educational booklet on frequently asked questions about PTSD and how to get help. What is PTSD? How common is the disorder? When should a person seek professional care? This booklet helps personalize the disorder with real stories from people who received help for their PTSD and have returned to their normal lives, activities and relationships.

4. Experiencing Posttraumatic Stress Disorder as a Family: A Guide to Thrive — a booklet on family interactions and support. Many of us have a family member or know someone who has experienced a traumatic event. While most people exposed to a traumatic event don’t develop PTSD, some people may. Research confirms that family members and loved ones play a vital role in PTSD recovery. This booklet educates family members and friends on:

--Signs and symptoms of PTSD

--Common reactions family members and friends may have toward their loved one’s PTSD symptoms

--Impact this disorder can potentially have on the family

--How to encourage someone to seek treatment and much more

5. Implementing the 2010 VA/DoD Clinical Practice Guideline for Post-traumatic Stress: A Guide for Clinic Leaders — a guide to help a manager or program administrator of a clinic or military treatment facility evaluate their clinic’s practices as compared to the clinical practice guideline recommendations. And, the tool can help clinic leaders implement changes based on key recommendations to facilitate the best possible treatment and recovery for patients.

To download electronic versions of the tools, visit the Department of Veterans Affairs website. Online ordering is available to Army, Air Force and Navy facilities through the Army Medical Command website. The latest clinical practice guideline summaries can also be found on both websites.

Corina Notyce, Defense Centers of Excellence – For Psychological Health & Traumatic Brain Injury public affairs.