JOURNAL ARTICLE
MULTICENTER STUDY

A qualitative study exploring how GPs decide to prescribe antidepressants

Julia Hyde, Michael Calnan, Lindsay Prior, Glyn Lewis, David Kessler, Deborah Sharp
British Journal of General Practice 2005, 55 (519): 755-62
16212850

BACKGROUND: To influence GPs' prescribing policies and practices it is necessary to have an understanding of how they make decisions. The limited evidence available suggests that not only do GPs find making decisions about diagnosing and prescribing for depression problematic, but that decisions are severely constrained by lack of resources. As a result, it might be thought that GPs, in line with current guidelines, will inevitably prescribe antidepressants for patients presenting with symptoms of anxiety and depression. This study examines the accuracy of this view.

AIM: To explore how GPs decide to prescribe antidepressants.

DESIGN: Focus groups with self-selected GPs.

SETTING: Bristol and the surrounding district.

METHOD: Qualitative study of five focus groups with 27 GPs.

RESULTS: GPs' decisions about whether an antidepressant would be an appropriate form of management are shaped by a set of rules based on 'clinical' and 'social' criteria. The preferred strategy is to 'wait and see', but antidepressants are prescribed earlier when symptoms are perceived to be persistent, unresolving, severe and 'classic'. Decisions to prescribe are also shaped by organisational constraints of time, lack of accessible alternative management options, cost of prescribing and perceived patient attitude.

CONCLUSION: The evidence from this study provides little support for the view that GPs take the easy option of prescribing antidepressants in the face of uncertainty. Evidence suggests that the GPs' prescribing was cautious, which indicates that GPs would support the initiative of recent draft guidelines regarding watchful waiting. This guidance, however, needs to be clear about what constitutes mild depression and address the question of prescribing to patients who are experiencing social adversity. Furthermore, alternatives to antidepressants such as counselling would need to be readily and equitably accessible. In addition, GPs need to be convinced that alternatives to antidepressants are at least as effective for patients with so-called 'mild depression'.

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