Effect of a patient's psychiatric history on physicians' estimation of probability of disease

J Gen Intern Med. 2000 Mar;15(3):204-6. doi: 10.1046/j.1525-1497.2000.04399.x.


A questionnaire was mailed to 300 Iowa family physicians to determine the influence of a prior psychiatric history on decision making. The response rate was 77%. Respondents were less likely to believe that a patient had serious illness when presenting with a severe headache or abdominal pain if the patient had a prior history of depression ( P <.05) or prior history of somatic complaints ( P <. 05), compared with a patient with no past history. Respondents were less likely to report that they would order testing for a patient with headache or abdominal pain if the patient had a history of depression ( P <.05, P =.08, respectively) or somatic complaints ( P <.01). Differences in likelihood of ordering tests were not significant after adjusting for differences in estimated probability of disease. We conclude that physicians respond differently to patients with psychiatric illness because of their estimation of pretest probability of disease rather than bias. We conclude that past psychiatric history influences physicians' estimation of disease presence and willingness to order tests.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Diagnostic Techniques and Procedures / psychology*
  • Family Practice / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Iowa
  • Logistic Models
  • Medical History Taking
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Population Surveillance
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Sampling Studies
  • Surveys and Questionnaires