Factors associated with referral to psychiatric care by general practitioners compared with self-referrals

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The gatekeeper function of the general practitioner (GP) in the pathway to specialized psychiatric services was investigated in this study, which is part of the Nordic Comparative Study on Sectorized Psychiatry. The question addressed in this paper is whether different sociodemographic and clinical factors as well as factors related to service utilization are associated with referral from the GP compared with self-referrals (including referrals from relatives).


The study comprised a total of 1413 consecutive patients, admitted during 1 year to five psychiatric centres in four Nordic countries. The centres included in this study were those that accepted non-medical referrals. Only new patients (not in contact with the service for at least 18 months) were included.


Increasing age was the only sociodemographic factor significantly associated with referral by the GP. The clinical factors (psychosis, being totally new to psychiatry and being in need of inpatient treatment) and some treatment characteristics (planned out-patient treatment and involuntary in-patient treatment), were all significantly associated with referral by the GP. Some indication was found that self-referred patients have shorter episodes of care.


The findings were remarkably stable across the different centres indicating a general pattern. This study extends previous work on the role of GPs in the pathway to specialized psychiatric services and indicates that the GP has an important gatekeeper function for the most disabled patients.

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