Background. We developed a comprehensive, 20-hour training programme for primary-care
physicians, that sought to improve their ability to detect, diagnose and manage depression. We
evaluated the effects of physician training on patient outcomes, using a pre-post design.
Methods. In the pre-training phase of the study, we sampled 1834 consecutive patients of 17
primary-care physicians and evaluated 518 of these patients for the presence of depression. We
measured outcomes of all patients with depression at 3 months and 1 year. The outcome measures
were: severity of psychopathology; duration of depressive episode; and level of daily functioning.
After the 17 physicians completed the training, we drew a new sample from their practices (498 of
1785 consecutive patients were evaluated for depression) and measured outcomes for the depressed
Results. We found an effect of the training on short-term outcome, particularly for patients with a
recent-onset depression. At 3-month follow-up depressed patients whose physicians had received
training had less severe psychopathology and patients with recent-onset depression also showed
higher levels of daily functioning than patients of the same physicians prior to the training. The
patients with a recent-onset depression that was recognized by trained physicians had shorter
depressive episodes, but this was not statistically significant. At 1-year follow-up, all training effects
had faded away.
Conclusions. Training primary-care physicians to recognize, diagnose and manage depression can
improve short-term patient outcomes, especially for patients with a recent onset of depression.
Patients suffering from a recurrent or chronic depression may need more specific interventions, both
for acute treatment and long-term management.