To examine current concerns that in the Canadian single-payer mental health care system, the "rich worried well" (that is, wealthy individuals who are worried yet mentally well) may overuse psychiatric services, while low-income, uninsured mentally ill individuals may remain undertreated. The current study focuses on the mental health care in the Canadian region of Ottawa-Carleton, where a single-payer system provides universal access to mental health services, to assess how psychiatric services are provided by psychiatrists in private practice.
One hundred and seven private psychiatrists working in the region of Ottawa-Carleton completed a questionnaire which contained questions about the sociodemographic characteristics and background of the psychiatrists themselves and which asked the psychiatrists specific questions about the sociodemographic status, diagnosis, and treatment of each patient seen on November 10, 1994.
Approximately 93% of the patients seen met criteria for one or more Axis I disorders, of which mood and anxiety disorders were the most common. Wealthier patients were relatively underrepresented among the patients treated by the private psychiatrists. In addition, we found no significant differences in the distribution of Axis I, Axis II, and Axis III disorders between patients earning below $30,000 per year compared with patients earning above $60,000 per year.
Our results suggest that outpatient psychiatric care delivered by private psychiatrists in a Canadian single-payer system targets primarily individuals with major psychiatric disorders and does not seem to favour "the worried well." Larger epidemiological studies with independent assessments of psychiatric populations are necessary to confirm our findings.
Comment In: Can J Psychiatry. 1998 Jun;43(5):524-59653541