Telephone Treatment Follow-Ups Effective
> 10/18/2009 3:14:12 PM

Those concerned about the cost of mental health treatment plans should take note: a new study concludes that subjects under standard depression treatment regimens who also participated in a telephone-based therapy trial reported better results than those who received standard treatments alone. And their overall expenses were only slightly higher.

All previous studies found these sorts of telephone-based treatment plans effective, but none had yet considered their relative cost. A broad, long-term review sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health looks to clarify these issues. 

The 600 patients who participated in this study all received formal diagnoses. During the length of the nearly two-year project, their treatment plans placed them in one of three groups: the first received standard care regimens in which they had saw a GP for a follow-up appointment and referral to a mental health specialist; another received up to five regular telephone checkups to monitor progress and offer emotional support. A third group received these checkups and also participated in an eight-session cognitive behavioral therapy program administered by phone. Researchers interviewed each subject at intervals of approximately three months using standard depression-scale surveys.

Armed with data drawn from eighteen months of monitoring, researchers assessed each program for its general efficiency and its cost vs. benefit ratio. Although the CBT program had the largest upfront costs, it was deemed most effective in the long run based on the improvements observed among its subjects. During the period in question, CBT subjects had an average of 49 more "depression-free" days than those who received standard treatment plans while the number for those who only received phone check ups was 29. This finding points not just to the short-term efficiency of CBT but to the importance of professional check-ups.

The main point to draw from this study is that regular follow-up plans are more effective because severe depression does not respond particularly well to the simple "take a pill" approach. Subjects whose plans do not lead to symptomatic improvement are far more likely to return to their doctors for alternate treatments, so the cheapest plans do not necessarily represent the soundest investment of one's health care dollars. Subjects concerned about the upfront costs of an ongoing anti-depressant plan should consider the study carefully as it would appear that the least expensive treatments will often end up costing them more money in the long run.

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