Background: Depression is a major individual and public-health burden throughout the world and is managed mainly in primary care. The most effective strategy to reduce this burden has been believed to be education of primary-care practitioners. We tested this assumption by assessing the effectiveness of an educational programme based on a clinical-practice guideline in improving the recognition and outcome of primary-care depression.
Methods: We carried out a randomised controlled trial in a representative sample of 60 primary-care practices (26% of the total) in an English health district. Education was delivered to practice teams and quality tested by feedback from participants and expert raters. The primary endpoints were recognition of depression, defined by the hospital anxiety and depression (HAD) scale, and clinical improvement. Analysis was by intention to treat.
Findings: The education was well received by participants, 80% of whom thought it would change their management of patients with depression. 21409 patients were screened, of whom 4192 were classified as depressed by the HAD scale. The sensitivity of physicians to depressive symptoms was 39% in the intervention group and 36% in the control group after education (odds ratio 1.2 [95% CI 0.88-1.61]). The outcome of depressed patients as a whole at 6 weeks or 6 months after the assessment did not significantly improve.
Interpretation: Although well received, this in-practice programme, which was designed to convey the current consensus on best practice for the care of depression, did not deliver improvements in recognition of or recovery from depression.