Background: Inadequate recognition of depression in old age in primary care and the consequences for individuals are now well reported, but little research has been undertaken on its impact on healthcare costs. It is not known whether these costs (i) differ between GP-recognized and -unrecognized depressed individuals, and (ii) differ between these groups and non-depressed individuals.
Methods: 451 primary care patients aged 75+ were interviewed face-to-face regarding depressive symptoms (Geriatric Depression Scale), chronic medical illness (Chronic Disease Score), resource utilization and healthcare costs (questionnaire of service utilization and costs). A general practitioner (GP) questionnaire was used to measure GPs' recognition of depression. Resource utilization was valued in monetary terms using 2004/2005 prices.
Results: Thirty-eight (60%) of the 63 depressed patients were not identified by the GPs. From a societal perspective, mean annual healthcare costs were €5,582 for unrecognized depressed and €4,722 for recognized depressed patients with no significant difference. Healthcare costs of recognized and unrecognized depressed exceeded the healthcare costs of non-depressed patients (€3,648) by 23% and 35% respectively (p < 0.05).
Conclusion: Although mean annual healthcare costs for GP-unrecognized depressed patients exceed the costs of GP-recognized depressed patients in absolute numbers, differences were not found to be statistically significant. Both groups differ from non-depressed individuals regarding their healthcare costs. Results encourage further research into the effect of recognition on healthcare costs of depression in large-scale studies.