Objectives: To understand the process, outcomes, and patient satisfaction of usual primary care for patients given a diagnostic code for depression.
Study design: Health plan data were used to identify patients with a diagnostic code for depression (and no such diagnosis in the preceding 6 months). Patients were surveyed by mail soon after the coded visit and again 3 months later about the care they had received; their charts were also audited.
Methods: The 274 patients in 9 primary care clinics who responded to both surveys reported on their personal characteristics, depression symptoms and history, the care received in that initial visit, and the follow-up care during the next 3 months. They also reported on their satisfaction with various aspects of that care.
Results: These patients were likely to be given antidepressant medications as their main or only treatment. Referral for mental health therapies was not used often, even though referral is readily available in this setting; other types of self-management recommendations and support were even less frequent. Patient outcomes and levels of satisfaction during a 3-month follow-up period were unimpressive.
Conclusions: To successfully maintain a key role in the care of this important problem for their patients, primary care physicians may need to incorporate a more comprehensive and systematic approach to management that involves other team members and is more satisfying to patients.