Counseling for Depression by Primary Care Providers

Published in: International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, v. 30, no. 4, 2000, p. 343-365

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2000

by Lisa S. Meredith, Rebecca Mazel

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Objective: Primary care providers (PCPs) deliver a significant amount of depression care, yet little is known about the content of clinical encounters with depressed patients. We describe the extent to which PCP's encounters with depressed and non-depressed patients involve psychotherapeutic counseling relative to other types of counseling during primary care visits. Method: Cross-sectional evaluation of audiotaped office visits between October 1997 and September 1998 with 154 patients of 27 PCPs at three Veteran's Health Administration clinics in California. Using the Roter Interaction Analysis System, we coded conversation into mutually exclusive talk categories and developed specific measures of depression counseling coded for sequences of depression talk. Analysis of variance and covariance was used to evaluate differences in counseling by depression type adjusted for encounter length, previous depression treatment, patient characteristics, and provider clustering. Results: PCPs delivered significantly more depression care (assessed using coded audiotapes of patient visits) to their patients with major depression compared with patients who had no depression or symptoms but no disorder. However, counseling using psychotherapeutic techniques did not differ by depression level and was equivalent for patients with major depression and subthreshold relative to non-depressed. Encounters with patients who had major depression included more talk about depression, devoted more time to discussing depression, and included more depression talk per minute. PCP encounters with depressed patients also included less biomedical talk compared to other groups. Conclusions: Findings suggest that PCPs do provide depression counseling to their patients who need it the most. Whether counseling is associated with appropriate treatment and subsequent outcomes will require additional research.

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