Why Aren’t Primary Care Doctors Screening for Depression?

Despite federal recommendations for depression screening, a new Rutgers study found that less than 5 percent of adults were screened for depression in primary care settings. The low screening rate suggests missed opportunities to identify individuals with depression and link them to care, according to study authors. The research was published in February in Psychiatric Services in Advance.

An estimated 13 to 16 percent of adults will experience symptoms of depression in their lifetime, and an estimated 4 to 8 percent experience major depression in a given year. Yet in primary care settings, depression goes unrecognized about half the time. Depression screening has been recommended since 2002 and it is generally covered by private insurance and Medicare.

The results of low screening are not surprising.  There are many reasons for that, but principally I believe it is a problem of time.  Busy practitioners not only are hard-pressed to find the time to actually do the screening, but also are hard-pressed to deal with the results if they may be positive.  This goes right to the fact that most primary care providers are still paid in fee-for-service model that rewards seeing as many patients as possible.  However, with the changes evolving in medicine, and how primary care physician’s especially, will be paid in the future, this may certainly change.  With eMindLog™, though, the practitioner does not actually need to do the screening test, and can deal with the results on a separate encounter.  Someone in the practice need only give the patient the information on how to log in.  This information could also be given on the pre-appointment questionnaire.

When the patient does present for their appointment, the practitioner will then have much better information in an easy graphic form in order to deal with that information. The patient will also come in at that time, much more informed about his or her situation.

To read find the entire Rutgers study, please visit Psychiatry Online.

Dr. Fred Teixeira is a primary care physician at Vidant Internal Medicine – Washington in Washington, NC. He attended the Emory University School of Medicine. Dr. Teixeira’s specialty is internal medicine with an interest in chronic disease management.


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