Training primary-care physicians to recognize, diagnose and manage depression: does it improve patient outcomes?

Psychol Med. 1999 Jul;29(4):833-45. doi: 10.1017/s0033291799008545.


Background: We developed a comprehensive, 20-hour training programme for primary-care physicians, that sought to improve their ability to detect, diagnose and manage depression. We evaluated the effects of physician training on patient outcomes, using a pre-post design.

Methods: In the pre-training phase of the study, we sampled 1834 consecutive patients of 17 primary-care physicians and evaluated 518 of these patients for the presence of depression. We measured outcomes of all patients with depression at 3 months and 1 year. The outcome measures were: severity of psychopathology; duration of depressive episode; and level of daily functioning. After the 17 physicians completed the training, we drew a new sample from their practices (498 of 1785 consecutive patients were evaluated for depression) and measured outcomes for the depressed patients.

Results: We found an effect of the training on short-term outcome, particularly for patients with a recent-onset depression. At 3-month follow-up depressed patients whose physicians had received training had less severe psychopathology and patients with recent-onset depression also showed higher levels of daily functioning than patients of the same physicians prior to the training. The patients with a recent-onset depression that was recognized by trained physicians had shorter depressive episodes, but this was not statistically significant. At 1-year follow-up, all training effects had faded away.

Conclusions: Training primary-care physicians to recognize, diagnose and manage depression can improve short-term patient outcomes, especially for patients with a recent onset of depression. Patients suffering from a recurrent or chronic depression may need more specific interventions, both for acute treatment and long-term management.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antidepressive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Curriculum
  • Depressive Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Depressive Disorder / drug therapy
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Inservice Training*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Netherlands
  • Physicians, Family / education*
  • Psychiatry / education*
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Antidepressive Agents
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors