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Original Research

Recognition and Treatment Recommendations for Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Major Depressive Episode: A Cross-Sectional Study Among General Practitioners in Norway

Ingrid Olssøn, MD; Arnstein Mykletun, MA; Alv A. Dahl, MD, PhD

Published: December 15, 2006

Article Abstract

Objective: Undertreatment by general practitioners (GPs) of patients who have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and major depressive episodes (MDEs) is well known. Overtreatment by GPs of patients without these disorders has received little attention. The aim of this study was to estimate GPs’ recommended overtreatment (recommendation of treatment to patients who, on the basis of diagnostic self-ratings, had neither GAD nor MDE) and undertreatment (not recommending treatment to patients who, on the basis of self-ratings, had GAD or MDE) and to describe patient variables associated with overtreatment.

Method: In a cross-sectional design (during 3 consecutive days in September 2001), 136 Norwegian GPs evaluated 1332 patients. Diagnostic reference standards were patients’ ratings of validated DSM-IV criteria-based questionnaires. GPs identified somatic diseases and mental disorders according to all accumulated information. For their diagnoses of MDE and GAD, the Clinical Global Impressions-Severity of Illness scale was used as a supplement, and GPs suggested treatment for these disorders.

Results: The GPs recommended overtreatment in 11% (132/1245) of cases. The rates of undertreatment were 64% (18/28) and 49% (23/47) for GAD and MDE, respectively. For comorbid GAD and MDE the rate of undertreatment was 17% (2/12). Mental reason for patient’s current visit and poor self-rated subjective health were strongly associated with overtreatment.

Conclusion: Our preliminary study indicates that overtreatment by GPs of patients who, according to self-rating, do not have GAD or MDE could represent a problem. Criteria-based diagnostic descriptions might be of limited relevance for the practice of GPs, and the issue of overtreatment should be investigated further in studies with improved design.

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