Quality of care for primary care patients with anxiety disorders

Am J Psychiatry. 2004 Dec;161(12):2230-7. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.161.12.2230.


Objective: This study evaluated quality of care for primary care patients with anxiety disorders in university-affiliated outpatient clinics in Los Angeles, San Diego, and Seattle.

Method: Three hundred sixty-six primary care outpatients who were diagnosed with panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, social phobia, and/or posttraumatic stress disorder (with or without major depression) were surveyed about care received in the prior 3 months. Quality indicators were mental health referral, anxiety counseling, and use of appropriate antianxiety medication during the previous 3 months.

Results: Approximately one-third of patients with anxiety disorders had received counseling from their primary care provider in the prior 3 months. Fewer than 10% had receiving counseling from a mental health professional that included multiple elements of cognitive behavior therapy. Approximately 40% had received appropriate antianxiety medications in the previous 3 months, although only 25% had received them at a minimally adequate dose and duration. Overall, fewer than one in three patients had received either psychotherapy or pharmacotherapy that met a criterion for quality care. In multivariate analyses, patients with comorbid depression and/or medical illness were more likely-and patients from ethnic minorities were less likely-to receive appropriate antianxiety medications.

Conclusions: Rates of quality care for anxiety disorders are moderate to low in university-affiliated primary care practices. Although an appropriate type of pharmacotherapy was frequently used, it was often of inadequate duration. Cognitive behavior therapy was markedly underused. These findings emphasize the need for practice guidelines and implementation of quality improvement programs for anxiety disorders in primary care.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Ambulatory Care / standards
  • Anxiety Disorders / diagnosis
  • Anxiety Disorders / epidemiology
  • Anxiety Disorders / therapy*
  • California / epidemiology
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Comorbidity
  • Counseling
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / diagnosis
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / epidemiology
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'
  • Primary Health Care / standards*
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Psychotropic Drugs / therapeutic use
  • Quality Indicators, Health Care
  • Quality of Health Care*
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Washington / epidemiology


  • Psychotropic Drugs