Harvard Mental Health Letter

In Brief: Study tests electronic messages as a way to improve depression care

Most Americans now use computers, smartphones, and other electronic devices to communicate with one another. Now a randomized controlled study suggests that electronic communications may help clinicians reach out to patients in a way that improves depression care.

Researchers at Group Health Research Institute in Seattle recruited 208 patients from a health maintenance organization (HMO) who were diagnosed with depression and recently prescribed a new antidepressant. All of the patients had registered for the HMO's patient Web site. Half were randomly assigned to receive usual care at the HMO, while the others also received three online monitoring contacts from a trained psychiatric nurse.

Each participant assigned to the intervention received a welcome message from the nurse, followed by periodic monitoring contacts. The contacts were asynchronous — nurses logged on at a given time, but patients responded at their convenience.

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