Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 103–111 | Cite as

Barriers to initiating depression treatment in primary care practice

  • Paul A. NuttingEmail author
  • Kathryn Rost
  • Miriam Dickinson
  • James J. Werner
  • Perry Dickinson
  • Jeffrey L. Smith
  • Beth Gallovic
Original Articles


OBJECTIVE AND DESIGN: This study used qualitative and quantitative methods to examine the reasons primary care physicians and nurses offered for their inability to initiate guideline-concordant acute-phase care for patients with current major depression.

PARTICIPANTS AND SETTING: Two hundred thirty-nine patients with 5 or more symptoms of depression seeing 12 physicians in 6 primary care practices were randomized to the intervention arm of a trial of the effectiveness of depression treatment. Sixty-six (27.6%) patients identified as failing to meet criteria for guideline-concordant treatment 8 weeks following the index visit were the focus of this analysis.

METHODS: The research team interviewed the 12 physicians and 6 nurse care managers to explore the major reasons depressed patients fail to receive guideline-concordant acutephase care. This information was used to develop a checklist of barriers to depression care. The 12 physicians then completed the checklist for each of the 64 patients for whom he or she was the primary care provider. Physicians chose which barriers they felt applied to each patient and weighted the importance of the barrier by assigning a total of 100 points for each patient. Cluster analysis of barrier socores identified naturally occurring groups of patients with common barrier profiles.

RESULTS: The cluster analysis produced a 5-cluster solution with profiles characterized by patient resistance (19 patients, 30.6%), patient noncompliance with visits (15 patients, 24.2%), physician judgment overruled the guideline (12 patients, 19.3%), patient psychosocial burden (8 patients, 12.9%), and health care system problems (8 patients, 12.9%). The physicians assigned 4,707 (75.9%) of the 6,200 weighting points to patient-centered barriers. Physician-centered barriers accounted for 927 (15.0%) and system barriers accounted for 566 (9.1%) of weighting points. Twenty-eight percent of the patients not initiating guideline-concordant acute-stage care went on to receive additional care and met criteria for remission at 6 months, with no statistical difference across the 5 patient clusters.

CONCLUSIONS: Current interventions fail to address barriers to initiating guideline-concordant acute-stage care faced by more than a quarter of depressed primary care patients. Physicians feel that barriers arise most frequently from factors centered with the patients, their psychosocial circumstances, and their attitudes and beliefs about depression and its care. Physicians less frequently make judgments that overrule the guidelines, but do so when patients have complex illness patterns. Further descriptive and experimental studies are needed to confirm and further examine barriers to depression care. Because few untreated patients improve without acute-stage care, additional work is also needed to develop new intervention components that address these barriers.

Key words

primary health care depression guidelines family physicians 


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Copyright information

© Society of General Internal Medicine 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul A. Nutting
    • 4
    • 1
    Email author
  • Kathryn Rost
    • 1
  • Miriam Dickinson
    • 1
  • James J. Werner
    • 2
  • Perry Dickinson
    • 1
  • Jeffrey L. Smith
    • 1
  • Beth Gallovic
    • 3
  1. 1.the Department of Family MedicineUniversity of Colorado Health Sciences CenterDenver
  2. 2.the Program in Health and Behavioral ScienceUniversity of Colorado Health Sciences CenterDenver
  3. 3.the Audit and Evaluation DivisionCity of BoulderBoulder
  4. 4.Center for Research StrategiesDenver

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