The National Institute of Mental Health has awarded Group Health a $1 million stimulus grant to research more effective treatment for depression. The award is part of the federal stimulus funds from ARRA, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The project will evaluate a new method for studying the effectiveness of treatments for depression. It will use electronic medical records to follow how individuals respond to different treatments across time.

The study will track health outcomes against various factors in hundreds of Group Health patients’ records, coded to protect privacy.

“As long as antidepressants have existed, researchers have sought ways to match patients with the specific treatments that suit them best,” explained Group Health psychiatrist Greg Simon, MD, MPH. He is also a senior investigator at Group Health’s research institute, Group Health Center for Health Studies.

During the two-year study, Simon and his research team will plan a second, much larger investigation. If funded, it will be conducted by mental health researchers at several large health plans in the HMO Research Network.

The Network is a consortium of nonproprietary public-interest research institutes with access to data on 10 million people nationwide.

Simon’s study is an example of Group Health’s ongoing research on “comparative effectiveness.” That means figuring out how well tests, treatments, and preventive actions work in real clinical settings.

The federal government is calling for comparative effectiveness research as a way to base medicine – and health care reform – on the best available evidence. The goal: ensuring that people receive the most effective health care available.

Researchers at Group Health Center for Health Studies have applied for other grants from the stimulus funds as well. This is the first of these grants to be awarded.

Simon has participated in several well-known studies of depression, including its links to obesity and how to deliver therapy over the phone, online, and through workplace-based programs.

Source: Group Health Cooperative Center for Health Studies