Primary care physicians can easily spot depressive symptoms in vulnerable patients

The general physician or any primary health care provider is best placed to diagnose depression.

A new study has identified vulnerable populations for whom depression screening combined with hazardous alcohol use screening could detect depressive symptoms. It is possible that these patients might otherwise go untreated.

“Our study provides evidence that, with a simple questionnaire, primary care doctors have a big opportunity to better spot depressive symptoms in at-risk patients and help improve their lives through treatment,” said first author Matthew Hirschtritt.

For India where the institution of the general practitioner(GP) or the family doctor survives only in small towns, this study provides one more reason for its revival.

“Many people do already have a strong relationship with their primary care provider, so it may actually be the perfect environment for behavioral health intervention.”

Mental health disorders are rising rapidly in all low socioeconomic nations including India and a recent WHO report emphasised the need for mental health services to be included in the Universal Health Coverage plans of all countries.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine.

Data from more than 2,800,000 KPNC (Kaiser Permanente Northern California) primary care patients who had been screened for hazardous alcohol use were utilised for this study. Patients were asked how many days they typically drank per week. Hazardous use was defined as more than 14 drinks a week for men 65 and younger, and more than 7 drinks a week for women and men 66 and over.

Researchers analyzed electronic health records to determine whether they were screened for depression with the recommended health questionnaire.

“Depressive symptoms are extremely common, but we know many people don’t make it to speciality psychiatric treatment,” said coauthor Stacy Sterling. “Many people do already have a strong relationship with their primary care provider, so it may actually be the perfect environment for behavioral health intervention.”

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