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Improving treatment for depression may be cost-effective
Written by Jeanne Bohm, Ph.D.   
Additional depression screening and care may save employers about $3,000 per 1,000 workers over five years, according to a analysis published in the December issue of Archives of General Psychiatics. 

Depression is estimated to cost tens of billions of dollars in the United States every year.  Most of these costs are associated with reduced productivity. Evidence suggests that currently available treatments could reduce cost but are currently underused.

Philip S. Wang, M.D., Dr.P.H., and colleagues at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School and the National Institute of Mental Health used a computer model to analyze the costs and benefits of an enhanced depression care program. The program consisted of screening all employees for depression  and providing depression management for employees with positive results.

Hypothetical employees were 40 years old and divided into six groups: never depressed, depressed but not in treatment, depressed and in treatment, recovered and in treatment, recovered but not in treatment, and dead. 

Depression treatment was adequate or substandard, to reflect variations in quality. The cost of administering the depression screening was based on the cost of adding questions to current screening programs; treatment costs were based on averages. 

Two analyses of the data were performed. One analysis (societal perspective) assigned model employees to usual care or to the enhanced program and were followed until death. The second analysis (employer perspective) did a five-year simulation in which the employee base was kept at a constant size by replacing workers. In the societal analysis, for every $19,976 in costs associated with the program, one employee would have one additional year without depression. Using the employer's perspective, the program would save the employer almost $3000 per 1,000 workers after 5 years.

The authors concluded that the expected higher direct treatment costs for depression would be more than offset by savings from reduced absenteeism, presenteeism and employee turnover.


AMA Media Release

The Costs and Benefits of Enhanced Depression Care to Employers. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2006;63:1345-1353.


About the Author

Jeanne Bohm, Ph.D. is a cancer biologist by training, a medical writer and an experienced science educator.

The author has no financial relationship to any of the companies listed in the article.

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