Referral and follow-up after mental health screening in commercially insured adolescents

J Adolesc Health. 2014 Jul;55(1):17-23. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2013.12.012. Epub 2014 Feb 11.


Purpose: Although mental health screening is recommended for adolescents, little is known about the predictors of referral to mental health services or engagement in treatment. We examined predictors of mental health referral from primary care and service use for commercially insured youth who had been screened using the Pediatric Symptom Checklist or Youth-Pediatric Symptom Checklist.

Methods: A retrospective chart review was conducted of commercially insured patients 14-17 years of age who were newly identified by the Pediatric Symptom Checklist or Youth-Pediatric Symptom Checklist at a well-child visit. Comparisons were made with propensity-matched negative adolescents meeting the same criteria. Bivariate analyses were conducted to examine differences between positives and negatives and between referred and nonreferred positives. Logistic regression analyses were performed to assess predictors of mental health referral for positive youth.

Results: Medical records of 117 positive and 110 negative youth were examined. Compared with negative youth, positive youth were significantly more likely to be referred for mental health treatment (p < .0001) and receive specialty mental health services (p < .0001). Of the positives, 54% were referred for mental health care and 67% of them accepted. However, only 18% completed a face-to-face mental health visit in the next 180 days. Pediatric Symptom Checklist score (odds ratio, 1.21; confidence interval, 1.03-1.42), parental or personal concern (odds ratio, 10.87; confidence interval, 2.70-43.76), and having depressive symptoms (odds ratio, 9.18; confidence interval, 1.49-56.60) were predictive of referral.

Conclusions: Despite identification after behavioral health screening, limited treatment engagement by referred patients persists. Primary care physicians and mental health specialists must enhance their efforts to engage and monitor identified patients.

Keywords: Behavioral health screening; Pediatric Symptom Checklist; Referrals; Teenagers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Health Services / economics
  • Adolescent Health Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Insurance, Health / economics
  • Insurance, Health / standards
  • Insurance, Health / statistics & numerical data
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / economics
  • Mass Screening / methods
  • Mass Screening / statistics & numerical data
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Primary Health Care / economics
  • Primary Health Care / methods*
  • Primary Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Referral and Consultation / economics
  • Referral and Consultation / statistics & numerical data*
  • Retrospective Studies