Research efforts accelerated in the 1990s to define the presentation of common psychiatric disorders in primary care settings. Two diagnostic instruments, the DSM-IV-PC and the PRIME-MD, were introduced in 1994, and a self-report form of the PRIME-MD, the PHQ, was published in 1999. These tools have streamlined the larger, often cumbersome psychiatric nomenclature of the DSM-III and DSM-IV and appear to be more useful in general medical settings. It still is not practical to use either instrument in its entirety for all patients in a busy primary care practice. Studies have suggested an efficient and effective, two-step method of screening primary care patients for psychiatric disorders, however. In this approach, a limited number of probing questions extracted from the PRIME-MD or PHQ (or DSM-IV-PC) are posed to patients, either in person or by a written self-report (i.e., a general health update or review of systems). Then a follow-up evaluation is done to confirm or refute positive screening results. Short, simple questionnaires that address specific topics (e.g., CAGE for alcohol screening or the GDS for mood disorders in older adults) complete and complement this approach. This method has the advantage of being easy to incorporate into routine office practice using minimal physician or office staff time, while showing acceptable sensitivity and specificity in studies to date. More research, particularly prospective studies, is needed to confirm the effectiveness of this approach and expand it beyond the few available studies that have focused mostly on depressive disorders.
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