Background: While previous studies have compared medical utilization between depressed and nondepressed patients, we conducted a study that focused specifically on patients who had a history of high medical expenditures.
Methods: This study was designed to determine whether a positive screen for depression is predictive of continued high medical expenditures. Medical utilization data were obtained on 50,000 patients enrolled in the DeanCare health maintenance organization for 2 consecutive years. Consistent high utilizers were identified based on the medical utilization costs (paid by the health maintenance organization) for those 2 consecutive years, 1992 and 1993. A depression screen based on the Medical Outcomes Survey was mailed to 786 high utilizers. Their costs were determined for 1994. Regression analyses identified 1994 costs associated with depression, adjusting for age, sex, benefits package, and medical comorbidity.
Results: Depressed high utilizers were more likely than nondepressed high utilizers to have higher medical costs in 1994. Among high utilizers, depressed patients' 1994 costs were significantly higher ($5764 vs $4227; P < .001), although expenditures for depressed and nondepressed high utilizers were similar for the previous 2 years. The total medical cost associated with depression in 1994, adjusted for age, sex, benefits package, and medical comorbidity, was $1498 per patient.
Conclusions: In the third year (1994), a positive Medical Outcomes Survey screen for depression in high utilizers was associated with $1498 in higher medical costs. The average actual amount spent on depression treatment accounted for only a small portion of total medical costs for depressed high utilizers in the third year.