Referrals for Depression by Primary Care Physicians: A Pilot Study

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Communication between primary care physicians (PCPs) and mental health providers (MHPs) is integral to the management of depressive disorders. Our study investigated referrals from PCPs to MHPs in a rural research network.


From April 1997 to September 1997, 5 family physicians tracked 6 weeks of referrals for depression and non-mental health problems and assessed the outcomes of these referrals after 3 months. The referrals were characterized by the nature and extent of communication between the PCP and the MHP and by the effectiveness of the consultation.


Sixty-seven patients (44 with non-mental health disorders and 23 with depressive disorders) were identified and followed. Analysis of the initial referral process showed that the referring physicians felt a greater sense of urgency for the referrals for depression. Written evidence of the referral in the patient's chart at the 3-month survey was more common for non-mental health disorders.


This pilot study demonstrates that there are communication barriers between PCPs and their mental health colleagues. Enhanced communication might improve satisfaction with the referral process. The details of the referral process need further study.

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