Do Subspecialists Ask About and Refer Families with Psychosocial Concerns? A Comparison with General Pediatricians

Cori Green, Ruth E.K. Stein, Amy Storfer-Isser, Andrew S. Garner, Bonnie D. Kerker, Moira Szilagyi, Kimberly E. Hoagwood, Sarah M. Horwitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Objectives Calls for pediatricians to tend to children’s psychosocial concerns have existed for decades because they are known to negatively impact child health. Children with chronic illnesses frequently have child- and family-level psychosocial concerns that complicate the care provided by their pediatric subspecialists. This study compares pediatricians who exclusively practice general pediatrics with subspecialists regarding their inquiring/screening and referring for psychosocial concerns. Physician and practice characteristics associated with these behaviors were examined. Methods We conducted a cross-sectional study using the 2013 American Academy of Pediatrics Periodic Survey of Fellows. Respondents included 304 pediatricians who exclusively practice general pediatrics and 147 subspecialists. The primary analysis compared the current practices of generalists vs. subspecialists with regard to inquiring/screening and referring children with 10 different psychosocial concerns. Covariates included socio-demographics, practice characteristics, and training experiences. Weighted univariate, bivariate and multivariable analyses were performed. Results Less than half of all pediatricians in the sample reported routinely inquiring/screening for most psychosocial concerns, and 2/3 of subspecialists failed to routinely inquire/screen for most of these conditions. Pediatricians who practice general pediatrics exclusively were more likely to inquire/screen (incident rate ratio (IRR) 1.41, p <.05) and refer (IRR 1.59, p <.001) for a greater number of psychosocial concerns than subspecialists, after adjusting for provider and practice characteristics. Having attended a child or adolescent mental health (MH) lecture/conference in the past 2 years was also related to inquiring/screening (IRR 1.24, p <.05). Conclusions Pediatricians infrequently inquire/screen and refer psychosocial concerns, with subspecialists addressing these concerns even less frequently.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)61-71
Number of pages11
JournalMaternal and child health journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 15 2019


  • Developmental and behavioral pediatrics
  • General pediatricians
  • Mental health
  • Psychosocial factors
  • Subspecialists

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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