HealthDay News — Primary care providers (PCPs) are the sole physician managers for more than one-third of children receiving mental health care, according to a study published online in Pediatrics.

L. Elizabeth Anderson, from the University of Tennessee College of Medicine in Memphis, and colleagues compared mental health care that U.S. children receive from PCPs and other mental health providers using data from the nationally representative Medical Expenditure Panel Survey from 2008 to 2011. The proportion of children prescribed psychotropic medications was compared by provider type.

The researchers found that of the children receiving outpatient care for mental health conditions, 34.8% saw PCPs only, 26.2% saw psychiatrists only, 15.2% saw psychologists/social workers only, and 23.8% saw multiple providers. The proportion that saw a PCP only was higher for children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) versus children with anxiety-mood disorders (41.8 versus 17.2%). 

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Medication prescription was higher for PCPs than psychiatrists; children with ADHD were more likely to receive stimulants or α-agonists when they saw a PCP versus a psychiatrist (73.7 versus 61.4%). Limited associations were seen for sociodemographic characteristics with provider type or medication use.

“Efforts supporting mental health in primary care will reach a substantial portion of children receiving mental health services,” the authors write.


Anderson LE, et al. Outpatient Visits and Medication Prescribing for US Children With Mental Health Conditions. Pediatrics. 2015; doi: 10.1542/peds.2015-0807.