Effect of race and sex on primary care physicians' diagnosis and treatment of late-life depression

Helen C. Kales, Harold W. Neighbors, Marcia Valenstein, Frederic C. Blow, John F. McCarthy, Rosalinda V. Ignacio, Kiran K.K. Taylor, Leah Gillon, Alan M. Mellow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVES: To examine primary care physician (PCP) contributions toward racial and sex differences in the diagnosis and treatment of late-life depression. DESIGN: Survey using a computerized instrument incorporating video interviews and text, with volunteer PCPs randomly assigned to one of four standardized video vignettes of an elderly patient depicting late-life depression. Vignettes differed only in the patient/actor's race (white/African-American) or sex. SETTING: American Academy of Family Physicians meeting, San Diego, California, 2002. PARTICIPANTS: One hundred seventy-eight U.S.-practicing postresidency PCPs who were asked to participate in a clinical decision-making study. MEASUREMENTS: The computerized survey instrument assessed PCPs' diagnoses, first-line treatment and management recommendations, and judgment of personal characteristics/behaviors for the patients in the vignettes. RESULTS: Eighty-five percent of all PCPs correctly diagnosed the elderly patient(s) with major depression. There were no significant differences in the diagnosis of depression, treatment recommendations, or PCP assessment of most patient characteristics by the race or sex of the patient/actor in the vignette, but PCP characteristics, most notably the location of medical school training (U.S. vs international), affected the likelihood of a depression diagnosis and treatment recommendations. CONCLUSION: Given standardized symptom-pictures, PCPs are just as likely to diagnose and treat depression in African-American as in white older people, suggesting that bias based simply on apparent patient race is not a likely explanation for the lower rates of depression diagnosis and treatment in older African Americans. PCPs who have trained at international medical schools may benefit from targeted training initiatives on the diagnosis and treatment of late-life depression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)777-784
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of the American Geriatrics Society
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • African Americans
  • Elderly
  • Geriatric
  • Mental health in primary care
  • Older adults

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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