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Br J Gen Pract. 1993 May;43(370):203-8.

Analysis of referrals of mental health problems by general practitioners.

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Netherlands Institute of Primary Health Care, Utrecht.


The majority of people in the community who have a psychiatric disorder will consult their general practitioner. Referrals from general practice to specialist services are, however, relatively rare. The filter between primary care and specialist care has been characterized by Goldberg and Huxley as the least permeable of the filters separating psychiatrists and other specialists from the populations they serve. These referrals form the subject of this study in the Netherlands. Using a large database of doctor-patient contacts, the proportion of mental health disorders resulting in a referral and the characteristics of the patient and general practitioner that are involved in such a referral have been determined. In addition, the type of mental health institution or specialist to which referrals were directed and the characteristics influencing this choice were examined. Only 6% of patients presenting with a psychiatric disorder during surgery hours were referred to specialist care. Younger patients, male patients and patients with severe diagnoses had a greater probability of being referred. The percentage of patients referred was higher in urban areas than in rural areas. Doctors with a limited task perception regarding mental treatment tended to refer more often. Although the diagnosis did have some relationship with the institutions to which patients were referred (psychotic conditions to psychiatric services and social/material problems to social workers), the most prevalent diagnoses (neurotic conditions and relationship problems) seemed to be more or less randomly distributed over the various possibilities. Preferences appeared to be related to the existence of regular meetings between general practitioners and specialists and a positive evaluation by general practitioners of the institution concerned.

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