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

  • Jonathan D. Brown
  • Lawrence S. Wissow
  • Benjamin L. Cook
  • Shaina Longway
  • Emily Caffery
  • Chris Pefaure


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.


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Copyright information

© National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jonathan D. Brown
    • 1
  • Lawrence S. Wissow
    • 2
  • Benjamin L. Cook
    • 3
  • Shaina Longway
    • 2
  • Emily Caffery
    • 4
  • Chris Pefaure
    • 1
  1. 1.Mathematica Policy Research, IncWashingtonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Health, Behavior, and SocietyJohns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public HealthBaltimoreUSA
  3. 3.Cambridge Health AllianceCenter for Multicultural Mental Health ResearchSomervilleUSA
  4. 4.Mathematica Policy Research, IncAnn ArborUSA

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