Efficacy of Motivational Interviewing to Improve Utilization of Mental Health Services Among Youths With Chronic Medical Conditions: A Cluster Randomized Clinical Trial

JAMA Netw Open. 2021 Oct 1;4(10):e2127622. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.27622.


Importance: Despite the high prevalence of anxiety and depression in youths with chronic medical conditions (CMCs), physicians encounter substantial barriers in motivating these patients to access mental health care services.

Objective: To determine the efficacy of motivational interviewing (MI) training for pediatricians in increasing youths' use of mental health care.

Design, setting, and participants: The COACH-MI (Chronic Conditions in Adolescents: Implementation and Evaluation of Patient-Centered Collaborative Healthcare-Motivational Interviewing) study was a single-center cluster randomized clinical trial at the University Children's Hospital specialized outpatient clinics in Düsseldorf, Germany. Treating pediatricians were cluster randomized to a 2-day MI workshop or treatment as usual (TAU). Patient recruitment and MI conversations occurred between April 2018 and May 2020 with 6-month follow-up and 1-year rescreening. Participants were youths aged 12 to 20 years with CMCs and comorbid symptoms of anxiety and depression; they were advised by their MI-trained or untrained physicians to access psychological counseling services. Statistical analysis was performed from October 2020 to April 2021.

Interventions: MI physicians were trained through a 2-day, certified MI training course; they recommended use of mental health care services during routine clinical appointments.

Main outcomes and measures: The primary outcome of uptake of mental health care services within the 6-month follow-up was analyzed using a logistic mixed model, adjusted for the data's cluster structure. Uptake of mental health services was defined as making at least 1 appointment by the 6-month follow-up.

Results: Among 164 youths with CMCs and conspicuous anxiety or depression screening, 97 (59%) were female, 94 (57%) had MI, and 70 (43%) had TAU; the mean (SD) age was 15.2 (1.9) years. Compared with patients receiving TAU, the difference in mental health care use at 6 months among patients whose physicians had undergone MI training was not statistically significant (odds ratio [OR], 1.96; 95% CI, 0.98-3.92; P = .06). The effect was moderated by the subjective burden of disease (F2,158 = 3.42; P = .04). Counseling with an MI-trained physician also led to lower anxiety symptom scores at 1-year rescreening (F1,130 = 4.11; P = .045). MI training was associated with longer conversations between patients and physicians (30.3 [16.7] minutes vs 16.8 [12.5] minutes; P < .001), and conversation length significantly influenced uptake rates across conditions (OR, 1.03; 95% CI, 1.01-1.06; P = .005).

Conclusions and relevance: In this study, use of MI in specialized pediatric consultations did not increase the use of mental health care services among youths with CMCs but did lead to longer patient-physician conversations and lower anxiety scores at 1 year. Additional research is required to determine whether varying scope and duration of MI training for physicians could encourage youths with CMCs to seek counseling and thus improve integrated care models.

Trial registration: German Trials Registry: DRKS00014043.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Chronic Disease / psychology
  • Chronic Disease / therapy*
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Female
  • Germany
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Motivational Interviewing / methods
  • Motivational Interviewing / standards*
  • Motivational Interviewing / statistics & numerical data
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / statistics & numerical data*