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Association of Adolescent Depressive Symptoms With Health Care Utilization and Payer-Incurred Expenditures

Published:October 08, 2015DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.acap.2015.08.013

      Abstract

      Objective

      Screening adolescents for depression is recommended by the US Preventive Services Task Force. We sought to evaluate the impact of positive depression screens in an adolescent population on health care utilization and costs from a payer perspective.

      Methods

      We conducted depression screening among 13- to 17-year-old adolescents enrolled in a large integrated care system using the 2- and 9-item Patient Health Questionnaires (PHQ). Health care utilization and cost data were obtained from administrative records. Chi-square, Wilcoxon rank sum, and t tests were used to test for statistical differences in outcomes between adolescents on the basis of screening status.

      Results

      Of the 4010 adolescents who completed depression screening, 3707 (92.4%) screened negative (PHQ-2 <2 or PHQ-9 <10), 186 (3.9%) screened positive for mild depression (PHQ-9 10–14), and 95 (2.4%) screened positive for moderate to severe depression (PHQ-9 ≥15). In the 12 months after screening, screen-positive adolescents were more likely than screen-negative adolescents to receive any emergency department visit or inpatient hospitalization, and they had significantly higher utilization of outpatient medical (mean ± SD, 8.3 ± 1.5 vs 3.5 ± 5.1) and mental health (3.8 ± 9.3 vs 0.7 ± 3.5) visits. Total health care system costs for screen-positive adolescents ($5083 ± $10,489) were more than twice as high as those of screen-negative adolescents ($2357 ± $7621).

      Conclusions

      Adolescent depressive symptoms, even when mild, are associated with increased health care utilization and costs. Only a minority of the increased costs is attributable to mental health care. Implementing depression screening and evidence-based mental health services may help to better control health care costs among screen-positive adolescents.

      Keywords

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