Stratified Care vs Stepped Care for Depression

A Cluster Randomized Clinical Trial

Jaime Delgadillo, PhDShehzad Ali, PhDKieran Fleck, PGDip7; et al
JAMA Psychiatry. Published online December 8, 2021. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2021.3539


Importance  Depression is a major cause of disability worldwide. Although empirically supported treatments are available, there is scarce evidence on how to effectively personalize psychological treatment selection.

Objective  To compare the clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of 2 treatment selection strategies: stepped care and stratified care.

Design, Setting, and Participants  This multisite, cluster randomized clinical trial recruited participants from the English National Health Service from July 5, 2018, to February 1, 2019. Thirty clinicians working across 4 psychological therapy services were randomly assigned to provide stratified (n = 15) or stepped (n = 15) care. In stepped care, patients sequentially access low-intensity guided self-help followed by high-intensity psychotherapy. In stratified care, patients are matched with either low- or high-intensity treatments at initial assessment. Data were analyzed from May 18, 2020, to October 13, 2021, using intention-to-treat principles.

Interventions  All clinicians used the same interview schedule to conduct initial assessments with patients seeking psychological treatment for common mental disorders, but those in the stratified care group received a personalized treatment recommendation for each patient generated by a machine learning algorithm. Eligible patients received either stratified or stepped care (ie, treatment as usual).

Main Outcomes and Measures  The preregistered outcome was posttreatment reliable and clinically significant improvement (RCSI) of depression symptoms (measured using the 9-item Patient Health Questionnaire). The RCSI outcome was compared between groups using logistic regression adjusted for baseline severity. Cost-effectiveness analyses compared incremental costs and health outcomes of the 2 treatment pathways.

Results  A total of 951 patients were included (618 women among 950 with data available [65.1%]; mean [SD] age, 38.27 [14.53] years). The proportion of cases of RCSI was significantly higher in the stratified care arm compared with the stepped care arm (264 of 505 [52.3%] vs 134 of 297 [45.1%]; odds ratio, 1.40 [95% CI, 1.04-1.87]; P = .03). Stratified care was associated with a higher mean additional cost per patient (£104.5 [95% CI, £67.5-£141.6] [$139.83 (95% CI, $90.32-$189.48)]; P < .001) because more patients accessed high-intensity treatments (332 of 583 [56.9%] vs 107 of 368 [29.1%]; χ2 = 70.51; P < .001), but this additional cost resulted in an approximately 7% increase in the probability of RCSI.

Conclusions and Relevance  In this cluster randomized clinical trial of adults with common mental disorders, stratified care was efficacious and cost-effective for the treatment of depression symptoms compared with stepped care. Stratified care can improve depression treatment outcomes at a modest additional cost.

Trial Registration Identifier: ISRCTN11106183