Depression symptomatology and diagnosis: discordance between patients and physicians in primary care settings

BMC Fam Pract. 2008 Jan 3;9:1. doi: 10.1186/1471-2296-9-1.


Background: To examine the agreement between depression symptoms using an assessment tool (PHQ-9), and physician documentation of the same symptoms during a clinic visit, and then to examine how the presence of these symptoms affects depression diagnosis in primary care settings.

Methods: Interviewer administered surveys and medical record reviews. A total of 304 participants were recruited from 2321 participants screened for depression at two large urban primary care community settings.

Results: Of the 2321 participants screened for depression 304 were positive for depression and of these 75.3% (n = 229) were significantly depressed (PHQ-9 score > or = 10). Of these, 31.0% were diagnosed by a physician with a depressive disorder. A total of 57.6% (n = 175) of study participants had both significant depression symptoms and functional impairment. Of these 37.7% were diagnosed by physicians as depressed. Cohen's Kappa analysis, used to determine the agreement between depression symptoms elicited using the PHQ-9 and physician documentation of these symptoms showed only slight agreement (0.001-0.101) for all depression symptoms using standard agreement rating scales. Further analysis showed that only suicidal ideation and hypersomnia or insomnia were associated with an increased likelihood of physician depression diagnosis (OR 5.41 P sig < .01 and (OR 2.02 P sig < .05 respectively). Other depression symptoms and chronic medical conditions had no affect on physician depression diagnosis.

Conclusion: Two-thirds of individuals with depression are undiagnosed in primary care settings. While functional impairment increases the rate of physician diagnosis of depression, the agreement between a structured assessment and physician elicited and or documented symptoms during a clinical encounter is very low. Suicidality, hypersomnia and insomnia are associated with an increase in the rate of depression diagnosis even when physician and self report of the symptom differ. Interventions that emphasize the use of routine structured screening of primary care patients might also improve the rate of diagnosis of depression in these settings. Further studies are needed to explore depression symptom assessment during physician patient encounter in primary care settings.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • California
  • Depressive Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Depressive Disorder / ethnology
  • Depressive Disorder / etiology
  • Diagnostic Errors*
  • Disorders of Excessive Somnolence / complications
  • Disorders of Excessive Somnolence / ethnology
  • Disorders of Excessive Somnolence / psychology
  • Documentation
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Medical Audit*
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain Measurement
  • Primary Health Care / standards*
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders / complications
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders / ethnology
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders / psychology
  • Suicide / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Urban Health Services / standards
  • Vulnerable Populations / ethnology
  • Vulnerable Populations / psychology