Media Contact: Ian Demsky

Caring partners central to program for depression treatment

E-mail alerts keep a friend or loved one informed of changes in mood or medication adherence

A new program at the University of Michigan aims to help patients with depression manage their symptoms by making someone who cares about them an important part of their treatment.

Patients enroll with a partner – a best friend, grown child or any trusted person from outside of the home. Each week, after the patient completes a short, automated telephone assessment, the partner receives an e-mail with updates about how the patient is doing along with specific suggestions for how the partner can help.

If the patient is feeling down or not taking medication regularly, the partner can know to call the patient, learn more and provide the encouragement that many people need to stick to their treatment plan. Patients and partners are encouraged to establish a routine and talk for 10-15 minutes on the same day each week. Spouses are allowed to be partners, but it’s discouraged because they’re often already involved in the patient’s care and an outside person provides an additional point of support.

“The program gives patients an opportunity to talk about feelings that they wouldn’t have otherwise shared,” says John D. Piette, Ph.D, professor of internal medicine at the U-M Medical School. “It gives the partners an opportunity to show the patient that someone does care about them and is paying attention to how they’re doing.”

Besides keeping their partner updated, the automated system provides patients with immediate feedback about changes in their depressive symptoms and access to additional support tools.

If a patient reports an urgent health problem, their doctor will also be notified.

Initial results have been positive, with a strong majority of patients reporting improvement in managing their depression symptoms, taking their medication and staying active, says Piette, who is also a senior research scientist with the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System. Patients also reported the program had strengthened their relationship with their partner.

The CarePartner Program is an initiative by the Quality Improvement for Complex Chronic Conditions group, which is directed by Piette and supported by the VA and U-M. The group’s mission is to improve health outcomes and lower costs by finding ways technology can be used innovatively and efficiently to help patients self-manage chronic diseases. The group’s other programs have addressed management of diabetes, heart failure and cancer.

U-M’s West Ann Arbor Heath Center and Saline Health Center are currently offering the CarePartners program to patients with depression.

Doctor and patient inquiries can be addressed to Liz Kaselitz, M.S.W., at emaccorm@med.umich.edu or 734-845-3673.

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