Objectives: To evaluate psychosocial morbidity in pediatric primary care and to determine displaced health care utilization.
Design and setting: A cross-sectional sample of parent-child dyads was screened using the Pediatric Symptom Checklist (PSC) at 6 pediatric sites of a health maintenance organization (HMO). Cost and utilization data were retrieved from regional databases for this sample.
Participants: Parent-child dyads from an HMO in northern California (N = 1840). The children ranged in age from 2 to 18 years.
Results: In all, 13.0% of children exhibited psychosocial dysfunction. The rate of children's chronic illness was 18.4%. Multiple regression analyses measured utilization and cost of health and psychiatric care for the selected population for the previous year; the average log cost of health care per child was $393. The average health care cost for children with anxious, depressed symptoms was $805. Chronically ill children were the highest utilizers of health care, with an average log cost of $1138. When psychosocial dysfunction was present, regression models showed that health care spending was highest for young children.
Conclusions: Health care utilization was higher for children with psychosocial morbidity, was higher among younger children, and decreased with age as psychiatric costs progressively increased.