Physician characteristics and the recognition of depression and anxiety in primary care

Med Care. 1994 Aug;32(8):795-812. doi: 10.1097/00005650-199408000-00004.


We examined physician characteristics associated with the recognition of depression and anxiety in primary care. Fifty-five physicians treating a total of 600 patients completed measures of psychosocial orientation, psychological mindedness, self-rating of sensitivity to hidden emotions, and a video test of sensitivity to nonverbal communication. Patients were classified as cases of psychiatric distress based on the CES-D scale and the Diagnostic Interview Schedule. Physician recognition was determined by notation of any psychosocial diagnosis in the medical charts over the ensuing 12 months. Of 192 patients scoring 16 or above on the CES-D, 44% (83) were recognized as psychiatrically distressed. Three findings were central to this study: 1) Physicians who are more sensitive to nonverbal expressions of emotion made more psychiatric or psychosocial assessment of their patients and appeared to be over-inclusive in their judgments of psychosocial problems; 2) Physicians who tended to blame depressed patients for causing, exaggerating, or prolonging their depression made fewer psychosocial assessments and were less accurate in detecting psychiatric distress; 3) False positive labeling of patients who had no evidence of psychiatric distress was rare. Surprisingly, more severe medical illness increased the likelihood of labeling and accurate recognition. Physician factors that increased recognition may indicate a greater willingness to formulate a psychiatric diagnosis and an ability notice nonverbal signs of distress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anxiety Disorders / classification
  • Anxiety Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Clinical Competence*
  • Cues
  • Depressive Disorder / classification
  • Depressive Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology
  • Female
  • Guilt
  • Humans
  • Introversion, Psychological
  • Judgment
  • Male
  • Motivation
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Nonverbal Communication
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Physicians, Family / education
  • Physicians, Family / psychology*
  • Physicians, Family / statistics & numerical data
  • Prejudice
  • Quebec
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Videotape Recording