What Drives Referral from Primary Care Physicians to Mental Health Specialists?

A Randomized Trial Using Actors Portraying Depressive Symptoms

Published in: Journal of General Internal Medicine v. 21, no. 6, June 2006, p. 584-589

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2006

by Richard L. Kravitz, Peter Franks, Mitchell Feldman, Lisa S. Meredith, Ladson Hinton, Carol E. Franz, Paul Duberstein, Ronald M. Epstein

Read More

Access further information on this document at www.blackwell-synergy.com

This article was published outside of RAND. The full text of the article can be found at the link above.

BACKGROUND: Referral from primary care to the mental health specialty sector is important but poorly understood. OBJECTIVE: Identify physician characteristics influencing mental health referral. DESIGN: Randomized controlled trial using Standardized Patients (SPs). SETTING: Offices of primary care physicians in 3 cities. PARTICIPANTS: One hundred fifty-two family physicians and general internists recruited from 4 broad practice settings; 18 middle aged Caucasian female actors. INTERVENTION: Two hundred and ninety-eight unannounced SP visits, with assignments constrained so physicians saw 1 SP with major depression and 1 with adjustment disorder. MEASUREMENTS: Mental health referrals via SP written reports; physician and system characteristics through a self-administered physician questionnaire. RESULTS: Among 298 SP visits, 107 (36%) resulted in mental health referral. Referrals were less likely among physicians with greater self-confidence in their ability to manage antidepressant therapy (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] 0.39, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.17 to 0.86) and were more likely if physicians typically spent 10% of professional time on nonclinical activities (AOR 3.42, 95% CI 1.45 to 8.07), had personal life experience with psychotherapy for depression (AOR 2.74, 95% CI 1.15 to 6.52), or usually had access to mental health consultation within 2 weeks (AOR 2.94, 95% CI 1.26 to 6.92). LIMITATION: The roles portrayed by SPs may not reflect the experience of a typical panel of primary care patients. CONCLUSIONS: Controlling for patient and health system factors, physicians' therapeutic confidence and personal experience were important influences on mental health referral. Research is needed to determine if addressing these factors can facilitate more appropriate care.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation external publication series. Many RAND studies are published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, as chapters in commercial books, or as documents published by other organizations.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.