The need for a system in the care of depression

J Fam Pract. 1999 Dec;48(12):973-9.


Background: Many problems have been identified in the usual care of patients with depression, including lack of identification, overreliance on medications, and inadequate treatment and follow-up. Most of these problems can be attributed to an absence of depression care systems in primary care practice. We collected information from a group of practices to assess the need for and acceptability of such systems.

Methods: We conducted 4 focus groups with primary care physicians and their staffs to identify attitudes and perceived behaviors for depression problems and to determine the participants' level of acceptance of alternative systematic approaches. We also surveyed clinicians and a sample of patients who recently visited their practices.

Results: Systematic screening was viewed unfavorably, and many barriers were identified with collaborative care with mental health clinicians. Participants did support involvement of other office staff and more systematic follow-up for patients with depression. The patient survey suggested that some patients with depressive symptoms were unrecognized and undertreated, but the key finding was considerable variation in care among practices.

Conclusions: These findings suggest that a more systematic approach could improve the problems associated with treatment of patients with depression in primary care and would be acceptable to physicians if introduced appropriately. There are at least 2 promising approaches to introducing such changes. One involves external feedback of data about their care to the practices, followed by offering a variety of systems concepts and tools. The other involves an internal change process in which a multiclinic improvement team collects its own data and develops its own systematic solutions using rapid-cycle testing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Data Collection
  • Depression / diagnosis
  • Depression / psychology
  • Depression / therapy*
  • Family Practice
  • Focus Groups
  • Humans
  • Internal Medicine
  • New England
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'
  • Primary Health Care / organization & administration*
  • Primary Health Care / standards
  • Quality of Health Care