Background: Many patients who visit primary care physicians suffer from depression, but physicians may miss the diagnosis or undertreat these patients. Improving physicians' communication skills pertaining to diagnosing and managing depression may lead to better outcomes.
Methods: We performed a randomized controlled trial involving 49 primary care physicians to determine the effect of the Depression Education Program on their knowledge of depression and their behavior toward depressed patients. After randomization, physicians in the intervention group completed the Depression Education Program, which consists of 2 4-hour interactive workshops that combine lectures, discussion, audiotape review, and role-playing. Between sessions, physicians audiotaped an interview with one of their patients. Two to 6 weeks following the intervention program, physicians completed a knowledge test and received office visits from 2 unannounced people acting as standardized patients with major depression. These "patients" completed a checklist and scales. Logistic and linear regression were used to control for sex, specialty, and suspicion that the patient was a standardized patient.
Results: For both standardized patients, more intervention physicians than control physicians asked about stresses at home, and they also scored higher on the Participatory Decision-Making scale. During the office visits of one of the standardized patients, more intervention physicians asked about at least 5 criteria for major depression (82% and 38%, P = .006), discussed the possibility of depression (96% and 65%, P = .049), scheduled a return visit within 2 weeks (67% and 33%, P = .004), and scored higher than control physicians on the Patient Satisfaction scale (40.3 and 35.5, P = .014).
Conclusions: The Depression Education Program changed physicians' behavior and may be an important component in the efforts to improve the care of depressed patients.