Primary care has been promoted as a setting to identify and manage adolescent depression. This study examined primary care–based adolescent depression identification and follow-up care when elevated symptoms were identified.
Data came from a large pediatric care network with an organizational recommendation to screen for depression at age 16 well-visits using an electronic health record (EHR)-integrated standardized measure. Analyses examined rates of screening and elevated symptoms, pediatricians' initial responses to elevated scores, and types of follow-up care received over 1 year using retrospective EHR data extraction and manual chart reviews.
Across program sites, 76.3% (n = 6981) of patients attending their age 16 well-visits were screened. About one-quarter had an elevated score (6.7% mild and 19.2% moderate-to-severe), many of whom received active follow-up on their well-visit date. Over 1 year, three-fourths of patients with scores in the moderate-to-severe range and 40.0% of patients with scores in the mild range received follow-up care (e.g., antidepressant prescriptions) as per EHR extraction. Follow-up rates were higher as per manual chart reviews.
Routine adolescent depression screening is feasible across diverse primary care sites. Most patients with elevated scores were not already receiving behavioral health services, suggesting screening identified previously undetected concerns. In turn, many adolescents with elevated scores initiated treatment after screening, which indicates providing screen results at the point of care may facilitate pediatrician actions. Still, gaps in follow-up care demonstrate the need for greater investment in primary care–based behavioral health services to support high-quality treatment and ultimately decrease the burden of adolescent depression.