Background: Major depression is a prevalent mental disorder with a high risk of relapses and recurrences, which are associated
with considerable burden for patients and high costs for society. Despite these negative consequences, only few studies have
focused on interventions aimed at the prevention of recurrences in primary care patients with depression.
the Study: To assess the cost-effectiveness of a psychoeducational prevention program (PEP) aimed at improving the long-term
outcome of depression in primary care.
Methods: Recruitment took place in the northern part of the Netherlands, patients
were referred by general practitioners. In total 267 patients were included in the study and randomly assigned to usual care
(UC) or UC with one of three forms of PEP; PEP alone, psychiatric consultation followed by PEP (psychiatrist-enhanced PEP),
and cognitive behavioral therapy followed by PEP (CBT-enhanced PEP). Costs and health outcomes were registered at three month
intervals during the 36 months follow-up of the study. Primary outcome measure was the proportion of depression-free time.
Mean total costs during the 36 months of the study were 8200 in the UC group, 9816 in the PEP group, 9844 in the psychiatrist-enhanced
PEP group, and 9254 in the CBT-enhanced PEP group. Costs of productivity losses, hospital admissions, contacts with regional
institutions for mental healthcare, and medication use contributed substantially to the total costs in each group. Results
of the primary outcome measure were less positive for PEP than for UC, but slightly better in the enhanced PEP groups. If
decision-makers are willing to pay up to 300 for an additional proportion of depression-free time, UC is most likely to be
the optimal intervention. For higher willingness to pay, CBT-enhanced PEP seems most efficient.
Discussion: The basic
PEP intervention was not cost-effective in comparison with UC. The economic impact of productivity losses associated with
depression, and the importance of including these costs in economic studies, was illustrated by the findings of this study.
Due to the drop-out of patients during the 36 months follow-up period, economic analyses had to account for missing data,
which may complicate the interpretation of the results. Although Quality-Adjusted Life Years (QALYs) could not be assessed
for all the patients, the results of analyses focusing on QALYs supported the overall conclusion that PEP is not cost-effective.
for Health Care Provision and Policies: Results indicated that PEP should not be implemented in the Dutch healthcare system.
Furthermore, is seems highly unlikely that PEP could be cost-effective in other (comparable) European healthcare systems.
for Further Research: The relatively positive economic results for CBT-enhanced PEP imply that UC enriched with CBT (but without
PEP) might be cost-effective in preventing relapses in primary care patients with depression. The actual consequences of CBT
for relapse prevention will have to be studied in further detail, both from a clinical and economic point of view.