Background: Depression places a large economic burden on the US health care system. Routine screening has been recognized as a fundamental step in the effective treatment of depression, but should be undertaken only when support systems are available to ensure proper diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up.
Objective: To estimate differences in prescribing new antidepressants and referral to stress management, psychotherapy, and other mental health (OMH) counseling at physician visits when documented depression screening was and was not performed.
Methods: Cross-sectional physician visit data for adults from the 2005-2007 National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey were used. The final analytical sample included 55,143 visits, representing a national population estimate of 1,741,080,686 physician visits. Four dependent variables were considered: (1) order for new antidepressant(s), and referral to (2) stress management, (3) psycho therapy, or (4) OMH counseling. Bivariable and multivariable associations between depression screening and each measure of depression follow-up care were evaluated using the design-based F statistic and multivariable logistic regression models.
Results: New antidepressant prescribing increased significantly (2.12% of visits without depression screening vs 10.61% with depression screening resulted in a new prescription of an antidepressant). Referral to stress management was the behavioral treatment with the greatest absolute change (3.31% of visits without depression screening vs 33.10% of visits with depression screening resulted in a referral to stress management). After controlling for background sociodemographic characteristics, the adjusted odds ratio of a new antidepressant order remained significantly higher at visits involving depression screening (AOR 5.36; 99.9% CI 2.92-9.82), as did referrals for all behavioral health care services (ie, stress management, psychotherapy, and OMH counseling).
Conclusions: At the national level, depression screening was associated with increased new antidepressant prescribing and referral for behavioral health care. It is critical for policy planners to recognize changes in follow-up depression care when implementing screening programs to ensure adequate capacity. Pharmacists are poised to assume a role in collaborative depression care, particularly with antidepressant medication therapy management.