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Original Research

Response to Past Depression Treatments Is Not Accurately Recalled: Comparison of Structured Recall and Patient Health Questionnaire Scores in Medical Records

Gregory E. Simon, MD, MPH; Carolyn M. Rutter, PhD; Christine Stewart, PhD; Chester Pabiniak, MS; and Linda Wehnes, MA

Published: December 15, 2012

Article Abstract

Objective: Assessing response to prior depression treatments is common in research and clinical practice, but few data are available regarding accuracy of patient recall. Data from a population-based survey were linked to electronic medical records to examine agreement between patients’ recalled treatment response and depression severity scores in the medical records.

Method: Electronic medical records from a large health system identified 1,878 adult patients with 2 or more episodes of clinician-diagnosed major depressive disorder or dysthymia between January 2005 and December 2009 (diagnoses had been recorded using ICD-9 codes). These potential participants were mailed an invitation letter, and, of these, 578 completed an online or mailed survey including structured recall of response to each prior depression treatment, rating both global improvement during treatment and improvement specifically attributed to treatment. For 269 of the survey participants, at least 1 treatment episode could be unambiguously linked to both pretreatment and posttreatment Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) depression scores in the electronic medical records. Analyses examined the agreement between patients’ recall of treatment response and response according to PHQ-9 scores from the medical records.

Results: Agreement between recall and the medical records was poor for both overall improvement following treatment (κ = 0.10; 95% CI, 0.00-0.19) and improvement attributed to treatment (κ = 0.12; 95% CI, 0.00-0.25). Agreement remained poor when the sample was limited to medication treatment episodes, episodes lasting 3 months or more, or episodes for which the participant was "very sure" of his or her ability to recall. Agreement reached a fair level only for episodes in the 6 months prior to the survey, for both overall improvement (κ = 0.23; 95% CI, 0.08-0.39) and improvement attributed to treatment (κ = 0.36; 95% CI, 0.12-0.59).

Conclusions: Patients’ recall of response to past depression treatments agrees poorly with data from medical records. Interview assessment of prior treatment response may not be a useful tool for research or clinical practice.

J Clin Psychiatry 2012;73(12):1503-1508

Submitted: May 7, 2012; accepted August 23, 2012(doi:10.4088/JCP.12m07883).

Corresponding author: Gregory E. Simon, MD, MPH, Group Health Research Institute, 1730 Minor Ave, #1600, Seattle, WA 98101 (

Volume: 73

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