Departmental Papers (SPP)

Document Type

Journal Article

Date of this Version

October 2007


Background: The reality of emergency health care in the United States today requires new approaches to mental health in the emergency department (ED). Major depression is a disabling condition that disproportionately affects women.

Objectives: To characterize ED provider–patient discussions about depression.

Methods: This was a secondary analysis of a database of audiotaped ED visits with women patients collected during a clinical trial of computer screening for domestic violence and other psychosocial risks. Nonemergent female patients, ages 18–65 years, were enrolled from two socioeconomically diverse academic EDs. All audio files with two or more relevant comments were identified as "significant depression discussions" and independently coded using a structured coding form.

Results: Of 871 audiorecorded ED visits, 70 (8%) included discussions containing any reference to depression and 20 (2%) constituted significant depression discussions. Qualitative analysis of the 20 significant discussions found that 16 (80%) required less than 90 seconds to complete. Ten included less than optimal provider communication characteristics. Despite the brevity or quality of the communication, 15 of the 20 yielded high patient satisfaction with their ED treatment.

Conclusions: ED providers rarely addressed depression. Qualitative analysis of significant patient– provider interactions regarding depression found that screening for depression in the ED can be accomplished with minimal expenditure of provider time and effort. Attention to psychosocial risk factors has the potential to improve the quality of ED care and patient satisfaction.


Postprint version. Published in Academic Emergency Medicine, Volume 14, Issue 10, October 2007, pages 908-911.
Publisher URL:


depression, emergency medicine, mental health, health care communication



Date Posted: 24 March 2008

This document has been peer reviewed.