How do patients expect the mental health service system to act? Testing the WHO responsiveness concept for its appropriateness in mental health care

Soc Sci Med. 2007 Sep;65(5):880-9. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2007.03.056. Epub 2007 May 9.


The World Health Organisation (WHO) concept of responsiveness has been defined as a measure of how well the health system responds to the population's legitimate expectations of non-health aspects of health care provision. It comprises eight domains: dignity, prompt attention, autonomy, choice of health care provider, clear communication, confidentiality, quality of basic amenities, and access to social support networks. The concept is of particular relevance to mental health care systems because of the specific dependency and vulnerability of their users. We tested its applicability to mental health care with five focus groups of experienced mental health care users in Hannover, Germany. The focus groups revealed 492 statements about users' expectations in mental health care. Most concerned attention (115), dignity (108) and autonomy (86). The quotations were assigned to the eight responsiveness domains. In addition, the domain of prompt attention was extended and renamed attention, and the new domain continuity was created. The findings correspond with the literature on health care expectations of non-mental health patients, but differ slightly from the results of a WHO study on overall health care responsiveness. The need for widening the concept of continuity and extending the attention domain reflects the nature of mental health care of providing predominately long-term care. Our analysis indicates the feasibility of the responsiveness concept (if altered as proposed) as a tool for assessing the quality of mental health service from the users' point of view. It should also be further developed to quantitatively evaluate mental health care systems and to benchmark system performance.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Germany
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health Services*
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Satisfaction*
  • World Health Organization*