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Interactive Computer Program Assists Patients To Open Up About Their Depression

Update Date: Nov 06, 2013 05:31 PM EST

An interactive computer program about depression shown to patients before they see their primary-care doctor could help persons detect if they need medical attention according to a new study. 

"We have developed an easy-to-use tool to help people with depression identify the symptoms, feel more comfortable discussing it with a primary-care provider and accept treatment if it is needed," Anthony Jerant, professor of family and community medicine at UC Davis and senior author of the study, said in a news release. "This brief and relatively inexpensive intervention could be easily and widely implemented in a variety of health-care settings."

According to the University of California, "The National Institute of Mental Health has said that major depressive disorders affect approximately 14.8 million American adults, or about 6.7 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year."

UC Davis also said, "Depression is an under recognized and undertreated condition that can easily be overlooked during a typical primary-care visit." 

Researchers believe that when depression is left untreated it could affect a majority of aspects in life including, relationships, employment, increasing use of alcohol and drug abuse and leads to a higher risk of suicide. 

For the study, researchers gathered 900 patients and 135 primary-care clinicians at seven health-care sites in Northern California. Before their medical appointments, patients were screened for depression and were then placed to watch one of the three interventions. 

The first video mimicked a public service announcement which focused on identifying depression and talking to doctors about the symptoms. The second video was an interaction computer program where patients were able to receive feedback instantly about the different levels of depressive symptoms and possible treatments. The third video was about healthy sleep and was not related to depression. 

Researchers identified if the patients talked about depression with their physicians after their appointments. They also determined whether they asked for medications or a referral for a mental-health specialist.  

"The results showed that patients with baseline depression who either watched the informational video or used the computer program were nearly twice as likely as control subjects to request information about depression during their appointment," reported UC Davis. "Those who used the interactive computer program were significantly more likely to receive a prescription or referral for depression (26 percent) than were those who viewed either the depression video (17.5 percent) or the video on sleep (16.3 percent)." 

Researchers also found that the computer program had the most effect on those who were most depressed. 

"We were concerned that the interventions could lead to treatment for depression for those who do not actually have it," said Richard Kravitz, UC Davis professor of internal medicine and lead author of the study. "Our interactive computer program, however, increased help for those who needed it the most without increasing treatment for those who didn't."

The findings are published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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