The 'usual care' of major depression in primary care practice

Arch Fam Med. 1997 Jul-Aug;6(4):334-9. doi: 10.1001/archfami.6.4.334.


Objective: To determine how primary care physicians treat patients with major depression in the course of routine practice and the degree to which such practice produces outcomes anticipated with interventions recommended by the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research Depression Guideline Panel.

Designs: Prospective cohort study.

Settings: Academically affiliated ambulatory family practice centers and internal medicine clinics in urban neighborhoods of Pittsburgh, Pa.

Patients: Ninety-two patients who were seen in primary care practices and who met criteria for a current major depression as determined by the Diagnostic Interview Schedule and a psychiatrist's assessment.

Intervention: Physicians were informed of the patient's psychiatric diagnosis, and were urged to treat it in whatever manner and for whatever duration they deemed appropriate (ie, with "usual care").

Main outcome measures: The treatments that were provided, the patients' clinical course, and the relationship between the type of treatment and clinical course.

Results: Health center records indicated that 67 patients (73%) received a depression-specific treatment in the 8 months following study entry. A majority of the total cohort were prescribed an antidepressant drug. Of the 92 patients, 18 (20%) were asymptomatic at 8 months (Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression score, < or = 7). The treatment pattern was not clearly related to the clinical course.

Conclusions: The recovery rates for the patients with major depression who were treated with usual care in routine primary care practices were lower than those anticipated from treatments consistent with the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research guidelines. Further studies of the caregiving elements that influence the effectiveness of depression-specific treatments of patients in primary care settings are needed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antidepressive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Depressive Disorder / drug therapy
  • Depressive Disorder / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Primary Health Care*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Psychotherapy
  • Treatment Outcome
  • United States


  • Antidepressive Agents