The influence of depression on physician-patient interaction in primary care

Edward J Callahan, Klea D Bertakis, Rahman Azari, John A Robbins, L. Jay Helms, Jill Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


Background: Depression is common but not well diagnosed in primary care medicine. This study examines the influence of depression and its recognition on the physician-patient encounter. Methods: A total of 508 new adult patients were assigned randomly to 105 primary care providers. Self-reported depression was determined by the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) on entry to the study. Initial visits were videotaped and analyzed using the Davis Observation Code. Chart notes were reviewed for diagnosis of depression. Results: Seventy-seven of the 508 study patients (15%) were identified as depressed in chart notes, while 130 patients (26%) had a BDI score ≥9, indicating moderate to severe depression. Recognition of depression was associated with increased counseling, decreased time conducting physical examination, and an increase in overall visit length. Both elevated BDI scores and physician recognition of depression were associated with decreases in chatting. Failure to recognize depression was associated with increased time taking medical history. Conclusions: Results support the potential value of psychological screening instruments in primary care and provide information for training physicians in the recognition and management of depression. The content of office visits is different when patients are depressed or are diagnosed as depressed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)346-351
Number of pages6
JournalFamily Medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1996

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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