Importance: Anxiety is commonly seen in primary care and associated with substantial burden.
Objective: To review the benefits and harms of screening and treatment for anxiety and the accuracy of instruments to detect anxiety among primary care patients.
Data sources: MEDLINE, PsychINFO, Cochrane library through September 7, 2022; references of existing reviews; ongoing surveillance for relevant literature through November 25, 2022.
Study selection: English-language original studies and systematic reviews of screening or treatment compared with control conditions and test accuracy studies of a priori-selected screening instruments were included. Two investigators independently reviewed abstracts and full-text articles for inclusion. Two investigators independently rated study quality.
Data extraction and synthesis: One investigator abstracted data; a second checked accuracy. Meta-analysis results were included from existing systematic reviews where available; meta-analyses were conducted on original research when evidence was sufficient.
Main outcomes and measures: Anxiety and depression outcomes; global quality of life and functioning; sensitivity and specificity of screening tools.
Results: Of the 59 publications included, 40 were original studies (N = 275 489) and 19 were systematic reviews (including ≈483 studies [N≈81 507]). Two screening studies found no benefit for screening for anxiety. Among test accuracy studies, only the Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) GAD-2 and GAD-7 screening instruments were evaluated by more than 1 study. Both screening instruments had adequate accuracy for detecting generalized anxiety disorder (eg, across 3 studies the GAD-7 at a cutoff of 10 had a pooled sensitivity of 0.79 [95% CI, 0.69 to 0.94] and specificity of 0.89 [95% CI, 0.83 to 0.94]). Evidence was limited for other instruments and other anxiety disorders. A large body of evidence supported the benefit of treatment for anxiety. For example, psychological interventions were associated with a small pooled standardized mean difference of -0.41 in anxiety symptom severity in primary care patients with anxiety (95% CI, -0.58 to -0.23]; 10 RCTs [n = 2075]; I2 = 40.2%); larger effects were found in general adult populations.
Conclusions and relevance: Evidence was insufficient to draw conclusions about the benefits or harms of anxiety screening programs. However, clear evidence exists that treatment for anxiety is beneficial, and more limited evidence indicates that some anxiety screening instruments have acceptable accuracy to detect generalized anxiety disorder.