A college student wrote in and asked the following questions:
1. Do you ever transfer care and how do you decide when to transfer care? If a patient is stable do you transfer care and prescribing over to a general/family/primary care doc? I know that most depression, anxiety, adhd, etc is diagnosed and treated in primary care these days anyways, under what situation is diagnosis and treatment management by a psychiatrist recommended over a general practitioner or conversely when is treatment management by a general practitioner recommended over a psychiatrist? Do you ever feel like your patient's level of need/functioning/distress doesn’t warrant your care, such as when they are improving with treatment, if so do ever you suggest that they should reduce their visits or seek care elsewhere?
2. Does a patient have to be diagnosed with a disorder in order to be prescribed medications? For example, do they have to fit the clinical criteria in the DSM for depression before you will feel comfortable prescribing antidepressants to them, or is just complaining of feeling sad and hopeless enough? Is complaining of being inattentive and failing classes enough to warrant adhd medications? I know it gets dicey with controlled substances and insurance coverage/reimbursement, but in general I am curious regarding the indications for medication prescriptions? If a patient doesn’t fit the exact DSM criteria for a disorder but they feel they will benefit from medications, do you give it to them?
Wow, that is a lot! The student began by telling us she sees a psychiatrist for 7 minutes every three months to get stimulants.
Do I transfer care? Not usually. Maybe the better answer is really rarely. I get patients from primary care docs who feel the patient needed more. I figure people come to me because they want a psychiatrist, they like having someone to talk to (I do Not do 7 minute sessions, but I certainly do see people a few times a year), and they like knowing they have a psychiatrist if something should go wrong. If someone who is stable for a while on a set dose of medicines were to ask, "Can I just get this from my primary care doctor?" I would say "Sure." I really have only been the one to suggest it when the patient makes it clear that scheduling with me is a burden, and I don't think I'm adding to the mix in any meaningful way. When this has happened, I've said, why not just have your primary care doc prescribe it and if you have any problems, I'm happy to see you again. This hasn't happened much. What happens more often is that people drift out of treatment, and I imagine they either stop their medicines, or get them from their internist. Sometimes they come back when they have a problem, and that's fine with me.
Regarding questions about whether meeting DSM criteria is a necessity for medications, that really depends on the doctor. I don't keep a DSM in my office and I never sit there with a check list of symptoms to say "Yup, you got it," "Nope, you don't." Why is that? Because the book was written by consensus-- a bunch of guys in a room agreed these are the symptoms you need to have Panic Disorder, not by a blood test or some thing that clearly correlates with prognosis. Precise diagnoses are really good for insuring that everyone in a research protocol has the same condition, and I don't do research. So maybe the patient doesn't quiet have enough symptoms for a diagnosis of depression, or perhaps they haven't gone on quite long enough, but perhaps the symptoms that are there are intense, incapacitating, or dangerous, and the patient is requesting medications. I'm not likely to send them out saying "You need one more symptom and 2 more days before your suicidal misery meets criteria, so come back when you have another symptom."
ADD may be it's own issue because of the controlled substance/addictive substance question, and the fact that some clinicians feel the diagnosis is over-made. People can be inattentive for many reasons: depression, pretty girl outside the room, boring instructor, cell phone texts keep coming in, worried about not being invited to big party tonight, upset about cat's cancer diagnosis...and the list marches on. Failing tests may be due to lower than needed IQ, partying too much, misunderstanding about what would be on the test, instructor with lower than needed IQ, girl in next seat vomiting, poor preparation, bad night's sleep, substitution of decaf for caffeinated coffee (Clink's version of Hell). Lots of people with ADD do just fine without meds. Being smart helps in the way of compensation. Lots of people with ADD seem to have disabilities beyond what one might expect with some distraction. I don't treat a lot of ADD, and my guess is that it depends on who you go to for this: the people who have large practices and do a lot of this work seem to have somewhat lower thresholds for aggressive prescribing, and a greater comfort level with the problem and the cure.
I hope I answered the questions okay.