Depression Screening Allows for More Comprehensive Care, Better Outcomes

Each person admitted to Cedars-Sinai is screened for signs of depression, which can slow recovery and make patients more sick.

In every patient room at Cedars-Sinai, nurses write a date on a white board. That date is a goal the patient and the whole care team work toward diligently: the date the patient gets to go home.

"It's widely known and documented among the medical community that anxiety, stress and depression can exacerbate sickness, prolong recovery times from even routine surgeries, and be either a complication or a cause of existing illnesses," said Itai Danovitch, MD, chair of the Department of Psychiatry. "That's why we're among the first medical-surgical institutions to develop a comprehensive screening program for every patient we admit."

Patients with cancer, cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, HIV and epilepsy may face very different treatment plans, but they often share anxiety and depression as a common complication or comorbidity to their illness.

At Cedars-Sinai, every patient admitted to the hospital is screened and evaluated for depression. The screening is seamless, administered by the same nurses seeing to patients' other medical needs. Answers to just two questions can alert caregivers that a patient would benefit from additional support. In these cases, nurses, social workers, the patient's attending physician and, as needed, staff from the Department of Psychiatry collaborate on a plan of care.

"We offer the best surgical techniques, the most advanced medicines, the most experienced physicians and nurses – but we don't stop there," said Waguih IsHak, MD, vice chair of the Department of Psychiatry. "We have to care for the patient's overall wellbeing. Depression can be a serious obstacle to recovery for our patients, which is why we want to actively identify and address it."

Screening also may uncover previously undiagnosed depression. It's crucial that medical centers be aware of this health issue and develop a plan to address it.

"Life doesn't stop when a parent needs surgery, when a new baby is born, when someone in the family is confronting cancer, or when an emergency occurs," IsHak said. "The same sources of stress that affect us every day continue while we work to understand a new diagnosis, commit to physical therapy, adjust to the medications that can help us get better, and determine how we can best support our family members in recovering.

"It's a considerable challenge for every person who spends time in our medical center. And it's one we're here to help them overcome."

The goal isn't just to help the patient reach the discharge date listed on the white board. It's to make sure they have the support and help they need the day after, and in the weeks and months that follow.