(COLLEGE STATION, TX) Ming Tai-Seale, Ph.D., M.P.H., associate professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health, received the prestigious Article-of-the-Year Award from AcademyHealth at its annual research meeting, June 8-10 in Washington, D.C.

AcademyHealth is a national organization for more than 3,500 individual health services researchers, public policymakers, business decision-makers, policy analysts, economists, sociologists, political scientists, consultants, clinicians and students. Its 132 organizational affiliates include academic institutions, private re­search organizations, health providers, health plans, health systems, associations, foundations and government agen­cies.

The Article-of-the-Year Award recognizes the best scientific work produced and published from the fields of health services research and health policy during the previous calendar year. The award-winning articles provide new insights into the delivery of health care and advances knowledge of the field.

“It is a tremendous honor for me to receive this award from my highly respected professional peers,” Dr. Tai-Seale said. “I am grateful to the National Institute of Mental Health for funding my research, to my esteemed mentors, colleagues and research assistants for their substantial contributions in making this accomplishment possible, and to the Article-of-the-Year Award Committee of AcademyHealth for the great honor.”

Dr. Tai-Seale received the AcademyHealth honor as lead author for two separate but related research papers, focusing on interactions between physicians and their elderly patients during routine office visits.

Her first research paper, “Time Allocation in Primary Care Office Visits,” appeared in the October 2007 issue of Health Services Research.

By analyzing videotaped office visits of nearly 400 elderly patients, Dr. Tai-Seale found physicians spend 16 minutes with patients, covering six topics per visit. She determined the longest time spent on a topic was five minutes, while remaining topics received about a minute of discussion. With visit time staying fairly constant, the study showed that some elderly patients did not receive the amount of time needed to report their health history or to be counseled by physicians.

Other contributors to the Health Services Research paper were Thomas G. McGuire, Ph.D., professor of health economics at Harvard Medical School, and Weimin Zhang, Ph.D., a researcher at the American Institutes for Research. The research was supported by a grant to Dr. Tai-Seale from the National Institute of Mental Health.

Dr. Tai-Seale’s second award-winning paper, “Two-Minute Mental Health Care for Elderly Patients: Inside Primary Care Visits,” appeared in the December 2007 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The paper focused on mental health treatment in primary care settings.

Previous research has shown that most elderly patients turn to their primary care physician to discuss mental health issues and problems, and primary care physicians can make a big difference in the mental health care of many patients’ lives. Dr. Tai-Seale and her colleagues uncovered an alarming shortage of time that elderly patients and their primary care physicians spend discussing mental health issues.

More than half of patients who could have benefited from mental health treatment – as suggested by their low self-disclosure of mental health problems – did not talk about their mental health. And, only two minutes per visit on average was spent on mental health during primary care office visits, despite a majority of study participants exhibiting significant mental disorders.

“Our society is aging rapidly, and good geriatric care is critical,” Dr. Tai-Seale said. “This study calls attention to how elderly patients’ mental health is addressed in primary care. It also raises concerns about the urgency for restructuring incentives, physician payment and organization of health care to address the complex needs of geriatric patients.”

Other contributors to the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society study were Thomas McGuire, Ph.D., professor of health economics at Harvard Medical School; Christopher Colenda, M.D., M.P.H., Jean and Thomas McMullin Dean of the HSC-College of Medicine; David Rosen, Ph.D., professor of humanities in medicine at the HSC-College of Medicine and McMillan Professor of Analytical Psychology at Texas A&M University; and Mary Ann Cook, Ph.D., JVC Radiology and Medical Analysis, L.L.C. in St. Louis.

Research was supported by a career development grant to Dr. Tai-Seale from the National Institute of Mental Health and a grant to Dr. Cook from the National Institute of Aging.

Dr. Tai-Seale said health services researchers have been “charged to be the eyes and ears of the health care system.”

“Conducting this research is an experience of harnessing the strengths and collective wisdom of my research team to uncover the reality of today’s busy world of primary care,” Dr. Tai-Seale said. “It’s my hope that this award will bring more public attention and facilitate reform in the organization and financing of primary care in our country so that evidence-based care and clear communication will become the norm.”

— Rae Lynn Mitchell