PURPOSE: Despite the sophisticated development of depression instruments during the past 4 decades, the critical topic of how primary care clinicians actually use those instruments in their day-to-day practice has not been investigated. We wanted to understand how primary care clinicians use depression instruments, for what purposes, and the conditions that influence their use. METHODS: Grounded theory method was used to guide data collection and analysis. We conducted 70 individual interviews and 3 focus groups (n = 24) with a purposeful sample of 70 primary care clinicians (family physicians, general internists, and nurse practitioners) from 52 offices. Investigators' field notes on office practice environments complemented individual interviews. RESULTS: The clinicians described occasional use of depression instruments but reported they did not routinely use them to aid depression diagnosis or management; the clinicians reportedly used them primarily to enhance patients' acceptance of the diagnosis when they anticipated or encountered resistance to the diagnosis. Three conditions promoted or reduced use of these instruments for different purposes: the extent of competing demands for the clinician's time, the lack of objective evidence of depression, and the clinician's familiarity with the patient. No differences among the 3 clinician groups were found for these 3 conditions. CONCLUSIONS: Depression instruments are reinvented by primary care clinicians in their real-world primary care practice. Although depression instruments were originally conceptualized for screening, diagnosing, or facilitating the management of depression, our study suggests that the real-world practice context influences their use to aid shared decision making-primarily to suggest, tell, or convince patients to accept the diagnosis of depression.
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