Elderly patients with chronic medical problems use more health care resources and services if they suffer from depression, according to Dr Jürgen Unützer of Seattle University in the USA.
Based on a four year survey of 2558 elderly patients in a large health maintenance organisation, results indicate that costs in all areas of medical care are higher for depressed patients, regardless of the severity of their physical illnesses. At the start of the study, the overall health-care costs of patients with significant self-reported depression symptoms averaged almost R90,000, compared to the R60,000 medical costs incurred by patients without depressive symptoms. The depressed group utilised more services in all categories of medical care, including outpatient visits, prescriptions and laboratory tests. Specialty mental health care accounted for only 1% of costs.
Investigators have speculated that depression amplifies patients’ physical symptoms – including pain, medication side-effects – and often leads to inadequate nutrition, all of which substantially increase both the use and cost of medical services.
The results of the study have shown that the total economic impact of depression remains largely underestimated, and have raised the alarm for depression to be suitably diagnosed and treated as a matter of urgency.