Depression is a very common condition. Most patients who suffer with depression get their initial treatment through primary care and the majority of patients get all of their mental health from their PCPs. For various reasons – including cost, convenience, stigma of actually going to a “real” mental health professional – depression is often addressed in the primary care setting.
As a physician, I regard depression as an illness like another – one that has certain demographics, tendencies, treatments, prognoses, etc. That said, if one does not look for something, it might not get found. While no-one would question the value of doing a blood pressure in a person who is not known to have high blood pressure, or doing routine bloodwork to screen for cholesterol, many clinicians and patients are wary of screening for mental illness – especially depression.
At SHFM, we often do depression screens – either in the form of written questionnaires or by carefully interviewing our patients. This process is so important to us and various regulatory bodies – such as the US Joint Task Force (USJTF) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMMS), that we routinely use a code that can be attached to the electronic charts of our patients. This allows us to avoid missing those who might benefit. It is EXTREMELY important for our patients to understand that being screened for a disease does not mean that they have it or even that we suspect that they have it. Again, I cite the blood pressure example. Of course, should a patient “screen positive” for depression, a competent primary care provider would know how to delve deeper and guide treatment, if needed.
Depression screening is one of the many services that primary care performs. If depression is not an issue for you personally, it is likely that the screen will only take a few moments and you might not even notice it happened – just like you might not have noticed your PCP checking your posture or walk when you came in. So, if you see a note of DEPRESSION SCREEN in your chart or some paperwork, it does not mean that you have been labeled with a diagnosis – just that your PCP is doing his or her work.
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