Process evaluation of a stepped-care program to prevent depression in primary care: Patients’ and practice nurses’ experiences

Alide D Pols, Karen Schipper, Debbie Overkamp, Susan E M van Dijk, Judith E Bosmans, Harm Van Marwijk, Marcel C Adriaanse, Maurits W van Tulder

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Depression is common in patients with diabetes type 2 (DM2) and/or coronary heart disease (CHD), with high personal and societal burden and may even be preventable. Recently, a cluster randomized trial of stepped care to prevent depression among patients with DM2 and/or CHD and subthreshold depression in Dutch primary care (Step-Dep) versus usual care showed no effectiveness. This paper presents its process evaluation, exploring in-depth experiences from a patient and practice nurse perspective to further understand the results.

A qualitative study was conducted. Using a purposive sampling strategy, data were collected through semi-structured interviews with 24 participants (15 patients and nine practice nurses). All interviews were audiotaped and transcribed verbatim. Atlas.ti 5.7.1 software was used for coding and structuring of themes. A thematic analysis of the data was performed.

The process evaluation showed, even through a negative trial, that Step-Dep was perceived as valuable by both patients and practice nurses; perceived effectiveness on improving depressive symptoms varied greatly, but most felt that it had been beneficial for patients’ well-being. Facilitators were: increased awareness of mental health problems in chronic disease management and improved accessibility and decreased experienced stigma of receiving mental health care. The Patient Health Questionnaire 9 (PHQ-9), used to determine depression severity, functioned as a useful starting point for the conversation on mental health and patients gained more insight into their mental health by regularly filling out the PHQ-9. However, patients and practice nurses did not widely support its use for monitoring depressive symptoms or making treatment decisions. Monitoring mental health was deemed important in chronically ill patients by both patients and practice nurses and was suggested to start at the time of diagnosis of a chronic disease. Appointed barriers were that patients were primarily motivated to participate in scientific research rather than their intrinsic need to improve depressive symptoms. Additionally, various practice nurses preferred offering individually based therapy over pre-determined interventions in a protocolled sequence and somatic practice nurses expressed a lack of competence to recognise and treat mental health problems.

This study demonstrates both the benefits and unique demands of programs such as Step-Dep. The appointed facilitators and barriers could guide the development of future studies aiming to prevent depression in similar patient groups.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBMC Family Practice
Publication statusPublished - 23 Feb 2017


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