Widespread screening catches more cases of depression. But follow-up care still falls far short

“If a provider sent a patient off and didn't follow up with them promptly, they might not know that the patient couldn’t find a specialist.”

In a routine checkup, a primary care physician like Lucinda Leung asks all the patients she sees about symptoms of depression. To her, it’s as important as measuring blood pressure or listening to a patient’s lungs.

New research, published Thursday in JAMA Network Open, provides a unique, bird’s-eye view of what happens after a patient screens positive for depression. Leung and her colleagues analyzed data from more than 600,000 patients in Veterans Affairs clinics in California, Arizona, and New Mexico. Tracing the path of care from screening onward, the researchers found that the majority of patients who screened positive for depression did not get timely follow-up care. The study also found that 23% of patients did not receive even minimal treatment for depression.

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