Patient mental health often overlooked

May 31, 2012 at 11:07 PM
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BALTIMORE, May 31 (UPI) -- If a companion accompanies an elderly patient with poor mental health to a doctor visit, his or her presence may hinder communication, U.S. researchers say.

Lead author Jennifer Wolff, an associate professor at The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health examined primary care visits of accompanied and unaccompanied patients ages 65 and older.

Medical visit communications were audio recorded and coded using the Roter Interaction Analysis System.

The study authors evaluated visit duration, patient-companion verbal activity and patient-centered communication and adjusted for differences in accompanied and unaccompanied patients' age, gender, race and physical function.

"Despite a growing body of research that a family companion has favorable implications for patient-centered processes and communication during medical visits, what remains unclear is the effect on medical visits that involve discussion of a potentially stigmatizing condition such as mental health," Wolff said in the statement. "Our study found that when patients with poor mental health were accompanied by a family companion, patients engaged in less psychosocial information-giving; physicians engaged in less question-asking and partnership-building and both patients and physicians contributed more task-oriented and biomedical dialogue which is indicative of less patient-centered communication."

The findings are scheduled to be published in the June issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

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