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A Call to Engage Youth in Collaborative and Integrated Care: Part 1

Posted By Tai J. Mendenhall, Ph.D., LMFT, CFT, Thursday, June 23, 2011
The call for interdisciplinary collaboration in health care is a longstanding one, and our collective efforts to do this are evolving across medical- and mental health- training programs and care facilities today more than they ever have. Recent advancements in the Patient Centered Medical Home (PCMH) movement are arguably pushing team-based approaches in continuous and coordinated care toward the middle of the bell-curve, wherein someday soon our integrated models will represent the rule (not the exception) to how health care is done.

My experiences as a clinician and researcher in this exciting time in health care have exposed to me to a variety of definitions of what "integrated”, "collaborative”, or "medical home” sequences looks like, and efforts by the CFHA and others to standardize and clarify these characterizations are presently underway. However, while common themes throughout these descriptions encompass the collaboration between professionals who represent different disciplines (e.g., a family physician with a marriage and family therapist) and/or the collaboration between professionals and patients (i.e., encouraging and facilitating patients to take active roles in their own health), most hallway conversations, formal presentations, research studies, professional literature, and clinical work that I have taken part in (or am aware of) around the PCMH frame patients as adults.

I believe that it is important to extend our call to engage "patients” in collaborative and integrated care to purposively include children and adolescents. I support this call on two primary grounds:

• First, many of the most prevalent and difficult presentations in health care today (defined as those that are the most common, most expensive, and/or most connected to co-morbidities and death) begin early in life. Diabetes, for example, is highly correlated with cardiovascular diseases (which represent the #1 cause of death in the United States), kidney disease, reduced or lost vision, amputations, and depression – and is directly connected to the rising epidemics of childhood obesity and sedentary lifestyles of America’s youth. Smoking is similarly correlated with cardiovascular diseases (as well as asthma, diabetic retinopathy, optic neuritis, influenza and pneumonia) – and most smokers (up to 90% of them) begin as teenagers or young adults. Put simply, then, it is easier to prepare than it is to repair. By engaging patients in health-related activities early in life, it is more likely that they will avoid experiencing commonplace troubles later on down the road.

• Second, the advancements of the PCMH and parallel efforts in community-based participatory research (CPBR) bring with them a sharing of responsibility between providers and patients. While providers maintain responsibility for learning and appropriately using knowledge in the prescribing of medications or performing medical procedures, for example, patients maintain responsibility for managing their diets, physical activity and other health-related behaviors. This is important to note because it transcends conventional provider/consumer models in which passive patients are rendered care (i.e., "fixed”) by all-knowing/all-powerful providers. And just as adult patients must assume responsibility for their own health within the PCMH, so to should children and adolescents. As we encourage and facilitate our youth to do this, a new generation of active (not passive) patients is born.


As I have advanced the call for active engagement of youth in health care across a variety of formal and informal meetings with colleagues, almost everyone has agreed that the idea carries a great deal of face-validity. They add that, too, that oftentimes kids (read: teenagers) will listen to each other more than they will to an adult, and that facilitating care sequences and/or supportive interventions that allows for this may offer a great deal.

But it’s when my colleagues ask about evidence of such efforts being effective that I really light up. Beyond the (admittedly limited) articles that any of us could find through a literature review regarding youth-engagement in health, I have been involved in several such projects since beginning my current position at the University of Minnesota. In my next blog entry, I will highlight some of these projects – and the extraordinary work our youth can do as we facilitate their active participation in care.

*This is the first of a two part blog on engaging youth in collaborative and integrative care.




Tai Mendenhall is an Assistant Professor at the University of Minnesota (UMN) in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, the Associate Director of the UMN’s Citizen Professional Center, and the co-Director of mental health teams within the UMN’s Academic Health Center / Office of Emergency Response’s Medical Reserve Corps (MRC). He is the Coordinator of Behavioral Medicine education at the UMN / St. John's Family Medicine Residency Program, and holds an adjunct faculty position in the UMN's Department of Family Social Science.  Dr. Mendenhall’s principal investigative interests center on the use and application of community-based participatory research (CBPR) methods targeting chronic illnesses in minority- and under-served patient and family populations.

Tags:  Behavioral Health  community health  family medicine  Integrated Health  medical  Youth 

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