Depression treatment in primary care

J Am Board Fam Pract. 2005 Mar-Apr;18(2):79-86. doi: 10.3122/jabfm.18.2.79.


Background: Depression costs the United States dollars 40 billion annually. Primary care physicians play a key role in the identification and treatment of depression. This study focused on the treatment options recommended by physicians and whether physicians were following the recommended treatment guidelines.

Methods: We recorded treatment recommendations by examining charts for all patients with newly detected depression. The patients were from 44 family medicine practitioners and 23 general internal medicine practitioners in a Midwest university medical center setting.

Results: For both medical specialties combined, pharmacotherapy was the most widely used intervention (recommended for 52% of patients), whereas psychotherapy alone was the least frequently used intervention (recommended for 4% of patients). Family medicine practitioners recommended combination treatment (pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy) more frequently than did general internal medicine practitioners (P = .022), and female physicians recommended combination treatment more frequently than did male physicians (P = .010).

Conclusions: Pharmacotherapy was found to be the most widely used treatment despite current evidence-based recommendations. Barriers to effective treatment plan are discussed. The implications for mental health interventions, combination therapy, and cost offset are also discussed. Further research exploring the negotiation process during the patient-provider encounter would shed light on patient and physician factors influencing treatment decisions.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Antidepressive Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Combined Modality Therapy / methods
  • Combined Modality Therapy / standards
  • Decision Making
  • Depression / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Physician's Role
  • Physicians, Family / standards
  • Physicians, Family / statistics & numerical data
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Primary Health Care / methods*
  • Primary Health Care / standards
  • Psychotherapy / methods*
  • Psychotherapy / standards
  • Sex Distribution
  • United States


  • Antidepressive Agents