Background: Since 2004, 'stepped-care models' have been adopted in several international evidence-based clinical guidelines to guide clinicians in the organisation of depression care. To enhance the adoption of this new treatment approach, a Quality Improvement Collaborative (QIC) was initiated in the Netherlands.
Methods: Alongside the QIC, an intervention study using a controlled before-and-after design was performed. Part of the study was a process evaluation, utilizing semi-structured group interviews, to provide insight into the perceptions of the participating clinicians on the implementation of stepped care for depression into their daily routines. Participants were primary care clinicians, specialist clinicians, and other healthcare staff from eight regions in the Netherlands. Analysis was supported by the Normalisation Process Theory (NPT).
Results: The introduction of a stepped-care model for depression to primary care teams within the context of a depression QIC was generally well received by participating clinicians. All three elements of the proposed stepped-care model (patient differentiation, stepped-care treatment, and outcome monitoring), were translated and introduced locally. Clinicians reported changes in terms of learning how to differentiate between patient groups and different levels of care, changing antidepressant prescribing routines as a consequence of having a broader treatment package to offer to their patients, and better working relationships with patients and colleagues. A complex range of factors influenced the implementation process. Facilitating factors were the stepped-care model itself, the structured team meetings (part of the QIC method), and the positive reaction from patients to stepped care. The differing views of depression and depression care within multidisciplinary health teams, lack of resources, and poor information systems hindered the rapid introduction of the stepped-care model. The NPT constructs 'coherence' and 'cognitive participation' appeared to be crucial drivers in the initial stage of the process.
Conclusions: Stepped care for depression is received positively in primary care. While it is difficult for the implementation of a full stepped-care approach to occur within a short time frame, clinicians can make progress towards achieving a stepped-care approach, particularly within the context of a QIC. Creating a shared understanding within multidisciplinary teams of what constitutes depression, reaching a consensus about the content of depression care, and the division of tasks are important when addressing the implementation process.