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J Am Board Fam Med. 2010 Sep-Oct;23(5):598-605. doi: 10.3122/jabfm.2010.05.090212.

Sustainability of depression care improvements: success of a practice change improvement collaborative.

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Department of Family Medicine, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA.



Long-term sustainment of improvements in care continues to challenge primary care practices. During the 2 years after of our Improving Depression Care collaborative, we examined how well practices were sustaining their depression care improvements.


Our study design used a qualitative interview follow-up of a modified learning collaborative intervention. We conducted telephone interviews with practice champions from 15 of the original 16 practices. Interviews were conducted during a 3-month period in 2008, and were recorded and professionally transcribed. Data on each of the depression care improvements and the change management strategy emphasized during the learning collaborative were summarized after review of the primary data and a consensus process to resolve differing interpretations.


During the period from 15 months to 3 years since our project began, depression screening or case finding was sustained in 14 of 15 practices. Thirteen practices sustained use of the 9-item Patient Health Questionnaire for depression monitoring, and one additional practice initiated it. Seven practices initiated self-management support and 2 of 3 practices sustained it. In contrast, tracking and case management proved difficult to sustain, with only 4 of 8 practices continuing this activity. Diffusion of use of the 9-item Patient Health Questionnaire to other clinicians in the practice was maintained in all but 3 practices and expanded in one practice. Six of the practices continued to use the change management strategy, including all 4 of the practices that sustained tracking.


Practices demonstrated long-term sustained improvement in depression care with the exception of tracking and care management, which may be a more challenging innovation to sustain. We hypothesize that sustaining complex depression care innovations may require active management by the practice.

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