Clinical efficacy of a Decision Support Tool (Link-me) to guide intensity of mental health care in primary practice: a pragmatic stratified randomised controlled trial

Susan Fletcher, Matthew J. Spittal, Patty Chondros, Victoria J. Palmer, Mary Lou Chatterton, Konstancja Densley, Maria Potiriadis, Meredith Harris, Bridget Bassilios, Philip Burgess, Cathrine Mihalopoulos, Jane Pirkis, Jane Gunn

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Background: The volume and heterogeneity of mental health problems that primary care patients present with is a substantial challenge for health systems, and both undertreatment and overtreatment are common. We developed Link-me, a patient-completed Decision Support Tool, to predict severity of depression or anxiety, identify priorities, and recommend interventions. In this study, we aimed to examine if Link-me reduces psychological distress among individuals predicted to have minimal/mild or severe symptoms of anxiety or depression. Methods: In this pragmatic stratified randomised controlled trial, adults aged 18–75 years reporting depressive or anxiety symptoms or use of mental health medication were recruited from 23 general practices in Australia. Participants completed the Decision Support Tool and were classified into three prognostic groups (minimal/mild, moderate, severe), and those in the minimal/mild and severe groups were eligible for inclusion. Participants were individually and randomly assigned (1:1) by a computer-generated allocation sequence to receive either prognosis-matched care (intervention group) or usual care plus attention control (control group). Participants were not blinded but intervention providers were only notified of those allocated to the intervention group. Outcome assessment was blinded. The primary outcome was the difference in the change in scores between the intervention and control group, and within prognostic groups, on the 10-item Kessler Psychological Distress Scale at 6 months post randomisation. The trial was registered on the Australian and New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry, ACTRN12617001333303. Outcomes: Between Nov 21, 2017, and Oct 31, 2018, 24 616 patients were invited to complete the eligibility screening survey. 1671 of these patients were included and randomly assigned to either the intervention group (n=834) or the control group (n=837). Prognosis-matched care was associated with greater reductions in psychological distress than usual care plus attention control at 6 months (p=0·03), with a standardised mean difference (SMD) of −0·09 (95% CI −0·17 to −0·01). This reduction was also seen in the severe prognostic group (p=0·003), with a SMD of −0·26 (−0·43 to −0·09), but not in the minimal/mild group (p=0·73), with a SMD of 0·04 (−0·17 to 0·24). In the complier average causal effect analysis in the severe prognostic group, differences were larger among those who received some or all aspects of the intervention (SMD range −0·58 to −1·15). No serious adverse effects were recorded. Interpretation: Prognosis-based matching of interventions reduces psychological distress in patients with anxiety or depressive symptoms, particularly in those with severe symptoms, and is associated with better outcomes when patients access the recommended treatment. Optimisation of the Link-me approach and implementation into routine practice could help reduce the burden of disease associated with common mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. Funding: Australian Government Department of Health.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)202-214
Number of pages13
JournalThe Lancet Psychiatry
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021
Externally publishedYes

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