Objective: We sought to ascertain whether patients' requests for antidepressants affect visit duration or history taking by primary care physicians (PCPs) for patients with depressive symptoms and a coexisting musculoskeletal disorder and to determine whether more thorough history taking is associated with diagnostic accuracy or with provision of minimally acceptable initial care for major depression.
Design: This was a randomized trial using standardized patients (SPs). Six roles involved 2 conditions (major depression and adjustment disorder, both with coexisting musculoskeletal conditions) and 3 patient request types (brand-specific, general, or none). We conducted the study in 152 PCP offices in Northern California and Rochester, New York. Physicians were assigned randomly to see 2 SPs with depression/wrist pain or adjustment disorder/back pain.
Main outcome measures: Physician history-taking for depression and the musculoskeletal condition; depression diagnosis in the medical record; antidepressant prescriptions/samples; referral/follow-up recommendations; visit duration; and provision of minimally acceptable initial depression care.
Results: General antidepressant requests were associated with more depression history-taking (Adjusted Parameter Estimate = 0.80 more questions of 10 (95% confidence interval = 0.31-1.29, P < 0.001); brand-specific requests were marginally associated with more depression history-taking (Adjusted Parameter Estimate = 0.45, 95% confidence interval = -0.04-0.93, P = 0.07). Antidepressant medication requests were not related to musculo-skeletal question asking (P > 0.3) or visit length (P > 0.8). Depression history taking was directly associated with the likelihood of a chart diagnosis of depression and the provision of minimally acceptable initial depression care.
Conclusion: General antidepressant requests increase depression history taking, including screening for suicide. Patients' requests for medication do not appear to short-circuit history taking for depression or distract the physician's attention from coexisting musculoskeletal conditions.