We examined whether older adults with depressive symptoms below the diagnostic threshold and those with DSM-IV major depression and/or dysthymia have higher medical costs than those without depression.
We mailed the PRIME-MD 2-item depression screen to the patients of 2 large primary care clinics of a staff-model health maintenance organization in Seattle, Wash. All 11 679 patients 60 years and older with primary care providers at the participating clinics were included, and 8894 (76.2%) were successfully enrolled. An additional 107 patients were referred to the study by their primary care physician. Nonrespondents were slightly younger and had higher inpatient medical costs in the previous 6 months. Patients with positive findings on at least 1 item or referred by their family physician were offered an interview with the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV. The total cost of medical services for the 6 months before the study was obtained from the cost accounting system of the health maintenance organization.
Total ambulatory costs were 43% to 52% higher and total ambulatory and inpatient costs were 47% to 51% higher in depressed compared with nondepressed elderly patients after adjustment for chronic medical illness. This increase was seen in every component of health care costs, with only a small percentage due to mental health treatment. In mean costs, depressed elderly patients averaged an increase of $763 to $979 in ambulatory costs and $1045 to $1700 in ambulatory and inpatient costs. No differences in costs were noted between patients with subthreshold depressive syndromes and those with DSM-IV depressive disorders.
Depressive symptoms and DSM-IV depressive disorders in elderly patients are associated with significantly higher health care costs, even after adjustment for chronic medical illness.