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Article Abstract

Online ISSN: 1099-176X    Print ISSN: 1091-4358
The Journal of Mental Health Policy and Economics
Volume 3, Issue 2, 2000. Pages: 69-75

Published Online: 23 Nov 2000

Copyright © 2000 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Research Article
Organizing mental health services: an evidence-based approach
Howard H. Goldman 1 *, Sten Thelander 2, Claes-Goran Westrin 3
1University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD, USA
2Swedish Council on Technology Assessment in Health Care, Stockholm, Sweden
3Department of Social Medicine, University of Uppsala, Uppsala, Sweden
email: Howard H. Goldman (hgoldman@erols.com)

*Correspondence to Howard H. Goldman, Professor of Psychiatry, University of Maryland School of Medicine, MSTF Building - Room 300, 685 West Baltimore Street, Baltimore, MD 21201, USA.


Background and Aims.
Health policy makers and program developers seek evidence-based guidance on how to organize and finance mental health services. The Swedish Council on Technology Assessment in Health Care (SBU) commissioned a conceptual framework for thinking about health care services as a medical technology. The following framework was developed, citing empirical research from mental health services research as the case example.

Historically, mental health services have focused on the organization and locus of care. Health care settings have been conceptualized as medical technologies, treatments in themselves. For example, the field speaks of an era of "asylum treatment" and "community care". Hospitals and community mental health centers are viewed as treatments with indications and "dosages", such as length of stay criteria. Assessment of mental health services often has focused on organizations and on administrative science.
There are two principal perspectives for assessing the contribution of the organization of services on health. One perspective is derived from clinical services research, in which the focus is on the impact of organized treatments (and their most common settings) on health status of individuals. The other perspective is based in service systems research, in which the focus is on the impact of organizational strategies on intermediate service patterns, such as continuity of care or integration, as well as health status.

Examples of empirical investigations from clinical services research and service systems research are presented to demonstrate potential sources of evidence to support specific decisions for organizing mental health services.

Evidence on organizing mental health services may be found in both types of services research. In clinical services research studies, service settings are viewed as treatments (e.g. "partial hospitalization"), some treatments are always embedded in a service matrix (e.g. assertive community treatment), and, where some treatments are organizationally combined (e.g. "integrated treatment" for co-occurring mental disorder and substance abuse), sometimes into a continuum of care. In service system research, integration of services and of the service system are the main focus of investigation. Studies focus on horizontal and vertical integration, primary care or specialty care and local mental health authorities - each of which may be conceptualized as a health care technology with a body of evidence assessing its effectiveness.

A conceptual framework for assessing the organization of services as a health care technology focuses attention on evidence to guide program design and policy development. Mental health services research holds promise for such decision-making guidance. Copyright © 2000 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Received: 8 December 1999