Tai-Seale M, Foo P, Stults C., Health Aff. 32(2):259-67. doi: 10.1377/hlthaff.2012.0962., 2013 Feb 01
Cheryl Stults, Ph.D., Assistant Scientist
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.
We conducted in-depth mixed-method analyses of 322 audio recordings of primary care visits by people with mental health needs.
We found that patients asked many questions-a median of fifteen per visit, but that they were more likely to ask about biomedical topics, such as diabetes, than about mental health topics. Patients received highly varied responses from physicians.
Our findings suggest that efforts aimed at improving 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.