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Effectiveness of Primary Care for Mental Health

A recent trend in medicine is to have primary care physicians take more responsibility for diagnosing and prescribing therapies for individuals who have mood or substance abuse disorders.

A new systematic review combining several research studies finds primary care physicians are effect in initiating problem-solving treatments for depression.

“We found no strong evidence for either the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of the psychosocial interventions by GPs,” wrote the review team from the Netherlands.

“Of the interventions reviewed, problem-solving treatment for depression seems the most promising tool for GPs, although its effectiveness in daily practice remains to be seen.”

Problem-solving treatment is a type of talk therapy. The goal is to help patients understand that their symptoms are caused by everyday problems and to teach them ways to tackle these problems.

The review appears in the latest issue of The Cochrane Library, a publication of The Cochrane Collaboration, an international organization that evaluates medical research. Systematic reviews draw evidence-based conclusions about medical practice after considering both the content and quality of existing medical trials on a topic.

“Many patients visit their GP because of problems that are psychosocial in origin,” according to the team led by Marcus Huibers, an assistant professor in the Department of Clinical Psychological Services at Maastricht University.

“Consequently, GPs could benefit from tools to help those patients.”

In the United States, a patient’s primary care physician (PCP) is often a GP — generally a doctor who specializes in family medicine, general internal medicine or pediatrics.

The reviewers looked at 10 studies on the effectiveness of interventions by GPs for depression, smoking cessation, alcohol abuse and unexplained fatigue as well as somatization disorder, where patients have chronic, unexplained physical symptoms caused by psychological problems.

Except for problem-solving treatment for major depression, the evidence on the effectiveness of GP care for psychosocial health complaints was either limited or conflicting, the review found. However, insufficient evidence does not mean that primary care physicians should be discouraged from tending to their patients’ mental health needs, the review authors said.

“The main message is that there is no reason not to start treatment for these problems with your GP,” said Nancy Stevens, M.D., professor of family medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle. “There is nothing in the review that says we should change what we are doing, nor are there any indications that what we are doing is harmful.”

Many GP office visits are for complaints that are psychosocial in nature and not always medically based, says Betsy Pedersen, Ph.D., assistant clinical professor of family medicine at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill.

“I would tell the patient to continue what they have always done and bring their concerns to their GP,” Pedersen said. “The GP will have training in psychosocial problems, is well qualified to know what other resources are available and will be able to help the person link up with those resources if they are needed.”

“For most psychosocial interventions, the relationship with the provider is critical,” Stevens said. “The really important message from this review is that patients need to develop a relationship with a health care provider who really knows them, so that when they have psychosocial issues there is someone available who they trust and who knows how to help them through it.”

Citation: Huibers MJH, et al. Psychosocial interventions by general practitioners (Review). Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2007, Issue 3.

Source: Health Behavior News Service

Effectiveness of Primary Care for Mental Health

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Effectiveness of Primary Care for Mental Health. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 21, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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