Screening for behavioral health problems in primary care

Curr Opin Pediatr. 2006 Dec;18(6):641-8. doi: 10.1097/MOP.0b013e3280108292.


Purpose of review: The epidemiology of behavioral health disorders in children and the current literature on the identification of these problems within primary care are reviewed. Suggestions are offered on how to implement screening within primary care settings.

Recent findings: The prevalence of behavioral health problems in children is approximately 12-27% yet the detection of these problems within the primary care setting is much lower. Although identification may be improving, underidentification and limited referral for services remain a significant problem. Few physicians use standardized instruments or DSM-IV criteria to identify children. Families, in addition, often do not disclose behavioral health concerns about their child to their physician. Multiple barriers exist for successful screening, including lack of training, limited time and poor reimbursement. Recent evidence suggests that a number of well validated instruments are now available for behavioral health screening within primary care.

Summary: Pediatric settings hold the potential to be an optimal environment to address behavioral health concerns due to the frequent contact and trusted relationship many families have with their pediatrician. There is new evidence that screening can be thoughtfully implemented and that system change around the detection of behavioral health problems is possible.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Attention Deficit and Disruptive Behavior Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Attention Deficit and Disruptive Behavior Disorders / epidemiology
  • Child
  • Child Behavior Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Child Behavior Disorders / epidemiology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Mass Screening / methods*
  • Mass Screening / statistics & numerical data
  • Mental Health / statistics & numerical data
  • Primary Health Care / methods
  • Primary Health Care / statistics & numerical data*