The Journal of Behavioral Health Services & Research

, Volume 40, Issue 1, pp 20-35

First online:

Mental Health Communications Skills Training for Medical Assistants in Pediatric Primary Care

  • Jonathan D. BrownAffiliated withMathematica Policy Research, Inc Email author 
  • , Lawrence S. WissowAffiliated withDepartment of Health, Behavior, and Society, Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health
  • , Benjamin L. CookAffiliated withCambridge Health Alliance, Center for Multicultural Mental Health Research
  • , Shaina LongwayAffiliated withDepartment of Health, Behavior, and Society, Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health
  • , Emily CafferyAffiliated withMathematica Policy Research, Inc
  • , Chris PefaureAffiliated withMathematica Policy Research, Inc

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Paraprofessional medical assistants (MAs) could help to promote pediatric primary care as a source of mental health services, particularly among patient populations who receive disparate mental health care. This project piloted a brief training to enhance the ability of MAs to have therapeutic encounters with Latino families who have mental health concerns in pediatric primary care. The evaluation of the pilot found that MAs were able to master most of the skills taught during the training, which improved their ability to have patient-centered encounters with families during standardized patient visits coded with the Roter Interaction Analysis System. Parents interviewed 1 and 6 months following the training were more than twice as willing as parents interviewed 1 month before the training to discuss mental health concerns with MAs, and they had better perceptions of their interactions with MAs (all p < 0.01) even after controlling for a range of patient and visit characteristics. Before training, 10.2% of parents discussed a mental health concern with the MA but not the physician; this never happened 6 months after training. This pilot provides preliminary evidence that training MAs holds potential to supplement other educational and organizational interventions aimed at improving mental health services in pediatric primary care, but further research is necessary to test this type of training in other settings and among different patient populations.