A study of the diagnostic accuracy of the PHQ-9 in primary care elderly

BMC Fam Pract. 2010 Sep 1;11:63. doi: 10.1186/1471-2296-11-63.


Background: The diagnostic accuracy of the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9) for assessment of depression in elderly persons in primary care settings in the United States has not been previously addressed. Thus, the purpose of this study was to evaluate the test performance of the PHQ-9 for detecting major and minor depression in elderly patients in primary care.

Methods: A prospective study of diagnostic accuracy was conducted in two primary care, university-based clinics in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. Seventy-one patients aged 65 years or older participated; all completed the PHQ-9 and the 15-item Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS) and underwent the Structured Clinical Interview for Depression (SCID). Sensitivity, specificity, area under the receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curve, and likelihood ratios (LRs) were calculated for the PHQ-9, the PHQ-2, and the 15-item GDS for major depression alone and the combination of major plus minor depression.

Results: Two thirds of participants were female, with a mean age of 78 and two chronic health conditions. Twelve percent met SCID criteria for major depression and 13% minor depression. The PHQ-9 had an area under the curve (AUC) of 0.87 (95% confidence interval [CI], 0.74-1.00) for major depression, while the PHQ-2 and the 15-item GDS each had an AUC of 0.81 (95% CI for PHQ-2, 0.64-0.98, and for 15-item GDS, 0.70-0.91; P = 0.551). For major and minor depression combined, the AUC for the PHQ-9 was 0.85 (95% CI, 0.73-0.96), for the PHQ-2, 0.80 (95% CI, 0.68-0.93), and for the 15-item GDS, 0.71 (95% CI, 0.55-0.87; P = 0.187).

Conclusions: Based on AUC values, the PHQ-9 performs comparably to the PHQ-2 and the 15-item GDS in identifying depression among primary care elderly.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Depression / diagnosis*
  • Depression / psychology
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / diagnosis*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / psychology
  • Female
  • Geriatric Assessment
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Primary Health Care / methods*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Psychometrics
  • ROC Curve
  • Surveys and Questionnaires*
  • United States