Rheumatologists’ Approaches to Diagnosis and Treatment of Depression

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Abstract

Objective

We examined rheumatologists’ approaches to and perceptions of depression in everyday practice.

Methods

A questionnaire was mailed to 470 practicing rheumatologists in California; 226 were included in the final analyses. Respondents provided information on demographics, practice characteristics, and attitudes, perceptions, and practices related to depression. Logistic regression models were constructed to assess the relationship of rheumatologists’ personal and practice characteristics with their depression-related practices.

Results

Fifty-one percent of respondents reported that at least half of their patients had depression. Nearly all providers (99%) reported addressing mental health issues during some visits. Rheumatologists were about equally likely to prescribe antidepressants, refer to a psychiatrist, or return the patient to the primary care physician, with roughly 60% often applying each of the 3 strategies. Respondents identified access to services and patients’ resistance to mental health diagnoses as major barriers to effective depression management. In logistic regression models, greater number of patient visits per week, greater percentage of patients with fibromyalgia, and private practice setting were associated with more prescription of antidepressants (P < 0.05).

Conclusions

Depression is common in rheumatologic practice, yet systems for identification, treatment, and referral of depressed patients are not universal. Rheumatologists’ awareness of the need for mental health services is high, but they may lack the confidence, time, and/or referral networks to provide consistently effective care for depressed patients. Improving depression care in rheumatology may require a combination of clinician-level interventions (e.g., enhanced behavioral health training) and practice-level reforms (e.g., collaborative care).

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