BACKGROUND: Older patients mostly receive depression care from primary care physicians, but it is not known whether depression treatment is primarily received from family/general practice physicians or internal medicine physicians and whether the type of depression treatment offered varies between these types of primary care physicians. OBJECTIVE: To assess what proportion of visits for depression are to family/general practice physicians or to internal medicine physicians and whether the type of depression treatment offered varies by primary care physician specialty. DESIGN: Data from the 2000 and 2001 National Ambulatory Medical Care Surveys, a nationally representative survey of visits to office-based practices using clustered sampling, were used. PARTICIPANTS: Office-based physician practices in the United States. RESULTS: There were an estimated 9.8 million visits made to office-based providers by older patients for depression in 2001 to 2002, of which 64% were to primary care physicians. Visits to primary care providers were evenly split between Internists and family/general practice physicians. There was no significant difference in the rate of antidepressant prescribing between visits to Internists versus family/general practice (55.9% vs 48.0%; P = .42). Mental health counseling or psychotherapy was offered more often during visits to family/general practice physicians than to Internists (39.4% vs 14.0%; P = .07). CONCLUSIONS: Visits for depression by elderly patients continue to take place in primary care settings to both family/general practice physicians and Internists. Interventions aimed at improving depression care in primary care should focus on both types of primary care physicians and emphasize improving rates of diagnosis and referral for counseling or psychotherapy as a viable treatment option.
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