A typical mental health discussion between an older patient and a primary healthcare practitioner lasts just two minutes, according to a recent US study.

Journal of the American Geriatrics SocietyThe research paper, which appeared in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, analysed video recordings of 385 consultations involving 35 clinicians and 366 elderly patients.

The consultations were filmed in three different settings: at an academic medical centre; at a managed care group; and with fee-for-service, standalone practitioners.

For each visit, the study recorded the nature of the topics discussed and the content of the discussion as well as the time spent on mental health.

Despite the fact that a separate patient survey indicated half of the respondents were depressed, only 22 per cent of visits included discussions about mental health.

A qualitative analysis of these discussions revealed a significant variation in the effort doctors’ gave to provide mental health advice.

The researchers also reported that few of the clinicians made referrals to mental health specialists – even when patients were severely depressed and suicidal.

Among the paper’s recommendations were calls for “system-level interventions” as well as guidelines about what should occur during a visit where mental health issues are discussed.

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