OBJECTIVE: Meta-analytical methods were used to investigate the effectiveness of case management and to compare outcomes for assertive community treatment and clinical case management. METHODS: Controlled studies of case management published between 1980 and 1998 were identified from reviews and through database searches. The results were quantitatively combined and compared with results of studies of mental health services without case management. Combined effect sizes and significance levels for 12 outcome domains were calculated. Analysis of homogeneity was used to explore differences between models. RESULTS: Forty-four studies were analyzed; 35 compared assertive community treatment or clinical case management with usual treatment, and nine directly compared assertive community treatment with clinical case management. Both types of case management were more effective than usual treatment in three outcome domains: family burden, family satisfaction with services, and cost of care. The total number of admissions and the proportion of clients hospitalized were reduced in assertive community treatment programs and increased in clinical case management programs. In both programs the number of hospital days used was reduced, but assertive community treatment was significantly more effective. Although clients in clinical case management had more admissions than those in usual treatment, the admissions were shorter, which reduced the total number of hospital days. The two types of case management were equally effective in reducing symptoms, increasing clients' contacts with services, reducing dropout rates, improving social functioning, and increasing clients' satisfaction. CONCLUSIONS: Both types of case management led to small to moderate improvements in the effectiveness of mental health services. Assertive community treatment had some demonstrable advantages over clinical case management in reducing hospitalization.
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