Opening a Window to Depression


Engaging and Empowering Patients


Using Digital Healthcare Tools in Chronic Disease Self-Management

Many people with depression who do not have upcoming medical appointments go undiagnosed. An online questionnaire can help get them into treatment.

The hidden nature of depression

Depression rates are increasing in the United States and continue to be exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Even when systematic screening is in place, only about half of symptomatic patients are diagnosed, and even fewer are treated until a crisis occurs. Research shows higher emergency department admissions, urgent care visits, and hospitalization rates among people with depression.

As Dr. Neda Laiteerapong points out, people who go to a behavioral health provider have already acknowledged that they need help, are willing to talk to someone about it, and are open to treatment. “The people who come to see me in my clinic are not those I’m usually worried about. I’m worried about the people who don’t show up when they are scheduled, who cancel appointments. Patients are really suffering at home.”

“Depression is comorbid with anxiety and trauma. If we ignore the depression, all the other stuff we’re doing to keep people well, like asking them to get cancer screenings, can be a waste of time. It’s really hard to convince someone to care about their future if they can’t even get out of bed.”
- Dr. Neda Laiteerapong

A depression questionnaire via a patient portal to increase screening rates

Dr. Laiteerapong and her colleagues at the University of Chicago conducted a study to see if screening patients through a patient portal could identify more patients with depression symptoms and facilitate timely treatment compared with those screened for depression by medical assistants during clinic appointments.

Unlikely to initiate a visit, but willing to respond to an at-home assessment

The team found that people who received the assessment via the patient portal and filled it out at home had higher instances of depression than those who came to clinic for appointments. They also had more severe depression. They were the patients who had dropped off the radar and who providers were concerned about.

An electronic questionnaire can help identify people with depression symptoms, rather than waiting for them to seek care.

This study suggests that inviting patients who have depression symptoms to self-report via a portal can increase the reach and frequency of depression screening and monitoring. An electronic questionnaire can help identify people with depression symptoms, rather than waiting for them to seek care.