A lack of psychiatrists only partially accounted for substantial variations in rates of mental illness diagnosis and prescriptions for psychotropic medications in practices nationwide, a study has shown.
Although a lack of available specialty care was associated with significantly higher odds of a diagnosis or prescription, the colocation of mental health professionals or percentage of children in foster care treated in a practice did not fully explain the differences.
Among 294,748 children aged 4-18 years, seen one or more times in 43 primary care practices nationwide, 15% received a mental health diagnosis between Jan. 1, 2009, and June 30, 2014. Psychotropic medications were prescribed to 14%, reported lead researcher Stephanie L. Mayne of the center for pediatric clinical effectiveness at the the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (Pediatrics. 2016 doi: 10.1542/peds.2015-2974).
The most common diagnosis was attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder at a rate of between 1% and 16%. Differences in other diagnoses “were smaller, but still meaningful” at ranges of 1%-8% for anxiety, 0%-5% for depression, 0.2%-3% for autism, 0%-3% for conduct disorder, and 0%-2% for oppositional-defiant disorder. Bipolar disorder was “uncommon” at less than 1%, Ms. Mayne and her associates reported.
The rate of children receiving any psychotropic medication was between 4% and 26%, while the proportion of patients receiving two or more medication classes ranged between 1% and 12%. Prescription rates for specific medication classes also varied at between 4% and 18% for stimulants, 1% and 12% for antidepressants, 0.1% and 8% for alpha-agonists, and 0.1% and 5% for second-generation antipsychotics.
“Primary care providers’ level of agreement with current guidelines, perceived self-efficacy in diagnosing or treating particular conditions, training, relationships with schools, and reimbursement from insurers might affect prescribing practices,” Ms. Mayne and her associates wrote.
“Even with colocation, barriers such as financial differences in reimbursement for medical and mental health services, difficulties with information sharing, differing expertise, and limited hours may impede integration,” they commented.
Dr. Alexander G. Fiks is an investigator for Pfizer; the other researchers said they had no relevant financial disclosures. This study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development under the Best Pharmaceuticals for Children Act.
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