Screenings Help to Diagnose Depression

Depression can affect more than just mental health—it can have physical consequences as well. Memorial Care Primary Care (previously known as Memorial Physician Services) is working to address the overall well-being of their patients through a multi-faceted effort to identify and help those who are experiencing depression.

“Depression has a serious impact on both mental and physical health, and can affect many aspects of a patient’s life,” said Tamar Kutz, administrator of ambulatory operations for Memorial Health.

Research has shown that undiagnosed and untreated depression can also lead to increased healthcare costs and decreased compliance with physician instructions—which, in turn, can cause more health problems.

Primary Care created a process to improve rates of depression screening, increase follow-up with patients and make physicians and nurse practitioners more comfortable discussing mental health issues. A team made up of physicians, nurses, behavioral health consultants and other clinical staff from nine MPS clinics worked together to achieve these goals.

The result was a 29-percent reduction in hospital admissions for depression and mental-health issues among Primary Care patients, and a 28-percent increase in referrals for behavioral healthcare. To date, nearly 6,000 patients have been newly diagnosed with depression.

“Increasing the number of patients who are screened for depression was a major factor in this effort,” Kutz said. “In the past, only 35 percent of our patients were being screened for depression each year. Now, 83 percent of patients receive those screenings.”

Why screen for depression?

  • Clinical depression is a serious medical illness.
  • Sometimes people with depression mistakenly believe that the symptoms of depression are a “normal part of life.”
  • Only about a third (35.3%) of those suffering from severe depression seek treatment from a mental health professional.

Who should get screened?

People suffering from depression often experience some of these key symptoms:

  • A persistent sad, anxious or “empty” mood
  • Sleeping too little, early morning awakening, or sleeping too much
  • Reduced appetite and weight loss, or increased appetite and weight gain
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Patients who receive a diagnosis of depression benefit from onsite behavioral health consultants. Behavioral health consultants work with patients to manage stress, improve coping skills, provide additional community resources and arrange referrals to address additional needs. Care coordinators follow up with these patients to ensure that they receive treatment and have the support they need. Well-coordinated efforts between the entire care team means more holistic treatment plans, targeted appropriate medication and lifestyle modification that improve overall health.

An algorithm developed by the team is now a part of the electronic health record, ensuring that patients with depression receive appropriate care every time they visit a Primary Care facility.

“We’re excited by these results,” Kutz said. “They show how crucial it is to look at each patient’s well-being in a holistic way, and how improvements in mental health can have a far-reaching impact.”