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Med Care. 2000 Jun;38(6):552-61.

Are there detectable differences in quality of care or outcome of depression across primary care providers?

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle 98195, USA.



The objective of this work was to determine whether there are detectable differences among primary care physicians in measures of quality of care or clinical outcome for depressed patients during the first 2 months of treatment with antidepressant medication.


We studied 1,599 depressed primary care patients initiating antidepressant treatment from 63 family physicians in 4 primary care clinics of a staff-model health maintenance organization. Patients were interviewed 6 to 8 weeks after initiating antidepressant medication with a telephone structured interview that included the Structural Clinical Interview for DSM-IV Diagnoses (SCID). Automated databases of the HMO were used to examine 3 quality-of-care measures: (1) the percentage of patients who had a refill of their antidepressant by 6 weeks, (2) the percentage of patients who had a return visit by 3 weeks, and (3) the percentage of patients having a return visit by 6 weeks. The percentage of patients in each primary care physician panel who had > or =4 persistent DSM-IV depressive symptoms at 6 to 8 weeks was the main clinical outcome variable. To adjust for case-mix differences between physician panels, patient age, gender, and medical comorbidity were controlled for in the analyses. Two covariates were used to adjust for differences in patients' clinical severity: self-report of > or =2 prior depressive episodes and an SCID diagnosis of major depression during the patient's worst episode in the last 2 years. Physician age, gender, and part-time versus full-time practice were also used as covariates.


The wide observed range of variability in quality-of-care and clinical outcome measures by physician practice decreased markedly in the statistical model that controlled for patient-level covariates and differences in the number of patients seen per provider. We did not detect differences in physician practice for the percentage of patients who had a return visit by 3 or 6 weeks, the percentage of patients who had a refill of their antidepressant prescription by 6 weeks, or the percentage of patients with an adverse clinical outcome of depression.


We did not find important differences in measures of quality of care or patient outcomes by physician. These results may have implications for the use of physician profiling and other forms of physician report cards.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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