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J Rural Health. 2005 Fall;21(4):303-9.

The limited effect of screening for depressive symptoms with the PHQ-9 in rural family practices.

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Department of Family Medicine, Carver College of Medicine, University of Iowa, Iowa City 52242, USA.



Previous studies have found that routine screening for depression does not improve patient outcome unless it is combined with case management. However, these studies were conducted before the widespread use of SSRIs or in settings other than traditional primary care.


This study investigated whether screening for depressive symptoms improves outcomes for depressed patients seen in rural fee-for-service primary care offices.


Depression screening was conducted at 2 private rural clinics in Iowa using the PHQ-9. Patients with depressive symptoms were randomized to the control group or the intervention group, where providers were given completed PHQ-9 questionnaires at the baseline visit. The outcome PHQ-9 scores were assessed by telephone at 4, 10, and 24 weeks after the index visit.


A total of 861 patients were screened for depressive symptoms; 51 subjects enrolled in the trial. The intervention and control groups did not significantly differ with respect to changes in PHQ-9 scores at any of the 3 follow-up times. They also did not differ with respect to the proportion of subjects who were actively managed with medication or by referral to a mental health specialist: 46% vs 33% (P = .38) for all subjects and 50% vs 50% (P = .96) for subjects with major depression at baseline.


Screening for depressive symptoms with the PHQ-9 in 2 rural medical clinics did not significantly increase physicians' active management of depression or lead to improved patient outcomes.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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