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Asking if patients need help can improve GPs' diagnosis of depression, a new study finds.

Researchers found adding the help screening question to two others increased specificity of diagnosis.

With or without the help question, screening was highly effective at picking up patients with depression ­ with a sensitivity of 96 per cent.

But the New Zealand study found asking if patients wanted help with their depression increased specificity from 78 to 89 per cent.

'We suggest these questions be presented to all new patients attending general practice and to patients who have not been to see their GP for about two years,' the researchers said.

The study, published online by the BMJ this week, evaluated the questions in 1,025 patients from 19 practices (see box, left).

The questions

Original two:

·'During the past month have you often been bothered

by feeling down, depressed or hopeless?'

·'During the past month have you often been bothered

by little interest or pleasure in doing things?'

Help question:

·'Is this something with which you would like help?'

­ yes / yes, but not today / no

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