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Message Framing and Engagement in Specialty Mental Health Care.

Mavandadi S, Wright E, Klaus J, Oslin D. Message Framing and Engagement in Specialty Mental Health Care. Psychiatric services (Washington, D.C.). 2018 Mar 1; 69(3):308-314.

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OBJECTIVE: Engagement rates in specialty mental health care for depression are suboptimal. This study examined the extent to which framing-by gain, by loss, or neutral- of health messages promotes appointment attendance among patients referred to specialty mental health care. METHODS: The study employed a randomized, prospective, experimental design. Patients meeting criteria for major depression and referred to specialty mental health care at the Corporal Michael J. Crescenz Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center were randomly assigned (N = 360) to receive a patient reminder letter routinely mailed prior to scheduled specialty care appointments (neutral) or one of two messages (gain framed versus loss framed) that were added to the routine letter. Appointment and attendance data were extracted from the computerized system. Logistic regression was used to determine the association between message frame condition and initial appointment attendance. RESULTS: The sample (mean±SD age = 51.5±13.5) was primarily male (85%) and nonwhite (62%), and the mean depressive symptom score indicated moderately severe depression. Participants who received the gain-framed message after being referred to specialty mental health care were significantly more likely to attend their appointment than those who received a neutral letter (p = .04). No statistically significant differences were noted among those receiving a loss-framed message compared with the other two arms. CONCLUSIONS: Findings suggest that highlighting the benefits of attending an initial specialty mental health care appointment, even if in writing, can affect engagement rates. If replicated, results have the potential to improve mental health treatment initiation rates in a timely, efficient, and cost-effective manner.

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