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New Research on Mental Health Patient Engagement Published in Health Affairs

Entitled the “New Era of Patient Engagement,” the February issue of Health Affairs features a collection of articles focusing on the topic of patient engagement. This special edition includes a paper on engaging mental health patients, written by Ming Tai-Seale, Ph.D., MPH, a senior investigator with the Palo Alto Medical Foundation Research Institute (PAMFRI). 

Dr. Tai-Seale addressing the audience at the Health Affairs Conference. (Photo credit: Samuel Hurd)

Dr. Tai-Seale’s article is entitled, “Patients with Mental Health Needs are Engaged in Asking Questions, but Physicians’ Responses Vary.” She conducted the research with Patricia K. Foo, a medical doctor candidate and doctoral candidate in economics at Stanford University and a research associate at PAMFRI, and Cheryl D. Stults, Ph.D., also a PAMFRI research associate. 

In the study’s abstract, Dr. Tai-Seale states that, “Increased patient engagement is of particular interest regarding patients with mental health needs, given the high burden of mental illness in the United States and the potential for greater patient engagement to improve health outcomes. Little is known about the extent to which these patients ask questions of their physicians, how physicians respond, and what the relationship is between patients’ questions and visit outcomes.” 

Dr. Tai-Seale and colleagues conducted in-depth, mixed-method analyses of 322 primary care visits by people with mental health needs. They found that patients asked an average of 15 questions per visit, but the queries were more likely to focus on medical topics rather than mental health topics. 

“We found that patients received highly varied responses from physicians, which suggests that efforts to improve patient engagement should move beyond simply encouraging patients to ask questions. The goal should also be to support physicians in recognizing patients’ concerns and providing the most responsive answers, as well as promoting strong relationships to undergird communication among all members of the care team,” Dr. Tai-Seale reported. 

Dr Tai-Seale was one of 26 featured physician authors, researchers and health care thought leaders on Wednesday, February 6, when Health Affairs held a briefing to discuss its February 2013 issue, “New Era of Patient Engagement.” 

According to Health Affairs, “It is widely agreed that meeting the goals of the famed Triple Aim – better health, better health care and lower health care costs – will compel more and different responses from consumers and patients in a number of areas, and far more effort on the part of providers to share decision making and take other steps to more fully engage patients in their care.” 

Dr. Tai-Seale is also a participant with the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), which was created to provide patients and those who care for them with the information they need to make better informed health care decisions. She is currently a principal investigator on a PCORI pilot project.

At the Health Affairs briefing, she joined six others from PCORI to describe their newly published Health Affairs article, “How The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute Is Engaging Patients and Others In Shaping Its Research Agenda.” PCORI’s Health Affairs article is an important part of the group’s effort to inform the medical community and fellow researchers about its strategy for patient-centered research.