Purpose: To clarify whether screening adults for depression in primary care settings improves recognition, treatment, and clinical outcomes.
Data sources: The MEDLINE database was searched from 1994 through August 2001. Other relevant articles were located through other systematic reviews; focused searches of MEDLINE from 1966 to 1994; the Cochrane depression, anxiety, and neurosis database; hand searches of bibliographies; and extensive peer review.
Study selection: The researchers reviewed randomized trials conducted in primary care settings that examined the effect of screening for depression on identification, treatment, or health outcomes, including trials that tested integrated, systematic support for treatment after identification of depression.
Data extraction: A single reviewer abstracted the relevant data from the included articles. A second reviewer checked the accuracy of the tables against the original articles.
Data synthesis: Compared with usual care, feedback of depression screening results to providers generally increased recognition of depressive illness in adults. Studies examining the effect of screening and feedback on treatment rates and clinical outcomes had mixed results. Many trials lacked power to detect clinically important differences in outcomes. Meta-analysis suggests that overall, screening and feedback reduced the risk for persistent depression (summary relative risk, 0.87 [95% CI, 0.79 to 0.95]). Programs that integrated interventions aimed at improving recognition and treatment of patients with depression and that incorporated quality improvements in clinic systems had stronger effects than programs of feedback alone.
Conclusion: Compared with usual care, screening for depression can improve outcomes, particularly when screening is coupled with system changes that help ensure adequate treatment and follow-up.