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Am J Manag Care. 2016 Oct 1;22(10):e350-e357.

Periodic health examinations and missed opportunities among patients likely needing mental health care.

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2350 W El Camino Real, Rm 446, Mountain View, CA 94301. E-mail:



Periodic health examinations (PHEs) are the most common reason adults see primary care providers. It is unknown if PHEs serve as a "safe portal" for patients with mental health needs to initiate care. We examined how physician communication styles impact mental health service delivery in PHEs.


Retrospective observational study using audio-recordings of 255 PHEs with patients likely to need mental health care.


Mixed-methods examined the timing of a mental health discussion (MHD), its quality, and the relationship between MHD quality and physician practice styles. MHD quality was measured against evidence-based practices as a 3-level variable (evidence-based, perfunctory, or absent). Physician practice styles were measured by: visit length, verbal dominance, and elicitation of a patient's agenda. A generalized ordered logit model was used.


Many patients came with mental health concerns, as over 50% of the MHDs occurred in the first 5 minutes of the visit. One-third of the 255 patients had an evidence-based MHD, another third had a perfunctory MHD, and the remaining had no MHD. MHD quality was significantly associated with physician communication styles. Visits with physicians who tend to spend more time with patients, fully elicit patients' agendas, and let patients talk (instead of being verbally dominant) were more likely to deliver evidence-based MHD.


If done well, PHEs could be a safe portal for patients to seek mental health care, but most PHEs fell short. Improving PHE quality may require reimbursement for longer visits and coaching for physicians to more fully elicit patients' agendas and to listen more attentively.

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