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June 28, 1995

Automated Telephone Screening Survey for Depression

Author Affiliations

From the Consolidated Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Mass (Drs Baer, Jacobs, Cukor, and Coyle and Mr O'Laughlen); the National Depression Screening Day Project, Wellesley, Mass (Dr Jacobs); the National Institute of Mental Health, Bethesda, Md (Dr Magruder); and Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC (Dr Magruder).

JAMA. 1995;273(24):1943-1944. doi:10.1001/jama.1995.03520480063041

Objective.  —To test the application of fully automated telephone screening using computerized digital voice recordings and touch-tone responses to assess symptoms of depression.

Design.  —A cross-sectional study of a 2-week-long telephone survey.

Setting.  —Toll-free telephone calls placed from home, work, or school to a central telephone/computer system at a telecommunications company in the Boston, Mass, area.

Participants.  —A total of 1812 participants called the system. Of these, 278 were students and faculty at a large midwestern state university, 725 were employees of a large northeastern high-technology firm, and 809 did not identify which site they were calling from.

Main Outcome Measures.  —The 20-question multiple-choice Zung Depression Scale was used to screen for depressive symptoms, and additional questions gathered demographic and caller satisfaction information.

Results.  —No technical problems were encountered during the trial. Of 1812 callers, 1597 (88.1%) completed all questions. Of these, 412 callers (25.8%) met criteria for "moderate or marked" depression and another 194 (12.1%) met criteria for "severe or extreme" depression. The majority of callers scoring positive for depression had received no previous treatment for depression. Of callers who completed the screening questionnaire, 74.6% reported the call to have been at least "moderately" helpful.

Conclusion.  —Readily available low-cost technology provides a fully automated, widely accessible, and confidential method of screening for a common mental illness.(JAMA. 1995;273:1943-1944)