Managing depression in a changing primary mental healthcare system: comparison of two snapshots of Australian GPs' treatment and referral patterns

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Background: Significant government spending has resulted in substantial changes to the Australian primary mental healthcare system. Initially producing the Better Outcomes in Mental Health Care (BOiMHC) initiative, this has been replaced by the Better Access to Mental Health Care programme, which allows all general practitioners (GPs) to refer patients for allied psychological health care under Medicare.

Aim: To examine changes in patient management and referral for care following the BOiMHC initiative.

Method: Comparison of results of a 2006 postal survey of Australian GPs examining self-reported management of patients with depression with a similar survey conducted in 2001–2002, prior to the BOiMHC initiative.

Results: One hundred and thirty-three (33%) GPs responded. The main self-reported strategies for managing patients with depression were similar to the previous study: supportive counselling and medication. No significant difference was found in rates of self-reported formal training in psychological treatments. Significantly higher rates of referral for psychological treatments were reported in 2006 than in 2002. Small trends towards higher reported referral for and reported use of psychological treatments by GPs registered for the BOiMHC initiative were noted when compared with those who were not registered.

Conclusion: While GPs' main reported strategies for managing patients with depression were unchanged, reported referral for psychological therapies was significantly higher in 2006, possibly reflecting the impact of changes to the primary mental healthcare system. Ongoing rigorous evaluation of further changes to the primary mental healthcare system are needed to determine whether they deliver effective, evidence-based care, and thus to inform future programmes.


Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of General Practice, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, University of Melbourne, Australia 2: Nossal Institute for Global Health, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, University of Melbourne, Australia

Publication date: June 1, 2009

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