Clinical Edge

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Mental Illness-Related Physician Office Visits

Where does primary care fall?

Approximately one-third of all mental health visits in the United States in 2012 were at primary care physician offices, according to National Center for Health Statistics. About half (52.6%) of all mental health visits were to psychiatrists. The report examined percentage of mental illness-related physician office visits by persons aged ≥18 years, by physician specialty and region. The study also found:

• In the Northeast, mental health-related visits to psychiatrists (64%) were more frequent compared with primary care physicians (28%), whereas in other regions of the country the differences were not significant.

• The percentage of visits to other physicians (combined specialties) was significantly lower compared with psychiatrists and compared with primary care physicians in all regions.

Citation: Cherry D, McCaig L. National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey data. CDC website. Posted October 2, 2015. Accessed October 5, 2015.

Commentary: If we as primary care physicians feel like we take care of a lot of mental health disorders, this study shows that is because we do. This data underscores the importance of directed education for primary care physicians for common mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety-related disorders because it is in our offices that a large proportion of these patients receive their care. It is important that primary care physicians are adept at both medical management of depression and anxiety and familiar with the utility of evidence-based therapeutic interventions such as cognitive-behavioral therapy. —Neil Skolnik, MD

Source: National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey data, available at